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Symptoms

Read about the possible symptoms of liver cancer and when it's a good idea to get checked out by your doctor.

Weight loss

This is weight loss when you aren't dieting. Doctors usually define significant weight loss as more than 10% of your body weight - a stone for every 10 stone you weigh.

See your doctor if there is no obvious explanation for your weight loss.

A swollen tummy (abdomen)

Swelling of the abdomen can happen in liver cancer for 2 reasons:

  • the liver itself can get bigger from the growing cancer. This can cause swelling over the right side of your abdomen.
  • generalized swelling of the abdomen caused by a build up of fluid. This is called ascites.
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The fluid builds up because the liver is congested. This squeezes the blood vessels inside the liver and the blood that normally flows through it gets backed up in the veins. The pressure in these veins increases and forces fluid to leak from the veins into the abdomen.

The veins may grow in size so much that they can be seen underneath the surface of the skin. Fluid also tends to leak out of the veins and into the abdominal cavity if the liver is not able to make blood proteins as it should.  

Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)

Jaundice means yellowing of the skin and the white area of your eyes. It may also make your skin itch. It means that your liver is not working properly or there may be a blockage in the bile duct.

Other symptoms

You may have some discomfort or pain in the tummy (abdomen) caused by the liver getting larger. You may also have pain in the right shoulder. This is caused by the enlarged liver stimulating the nerves under the diaphragm, which are connected to nerves in the right shoulder (referred pain). Your diaphragm is a sheet of muscle just under your ribs.

Other possible symptoms include: 

  • loss of appetite over a period of a few weeks
  • being sick
  • feeling full or bloated after eating, even after a small meal
  • itching
  • a sudden worsening of health in somebody with known chronic hepatitis or cirrhosis
  • a high temperature and sweating

When to see your doctor

You should see your doctor if you have:

  • yellow eyes and skin
  • are coughing up blood
  • discomfort and swelling of the stomach

Your symptoms are unlikely to be cancer but it is important to get them checked by a doctor.

 

Last reviewed: 
26 Jun 2015
  • Cancer and its management (6th edition)
    Tobias J and Hochhauser D
    Wiley-Blackwell, 2010

     

  • Cancer principles and practice of oncology (10th edition)
    De Vita, VT, Lawrence TS and Rosenberg SA
    Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2014

  • Referral for suspected cancer. A clinical practice guideline.
    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), June 2015

Information and help

About Cancer generously supported by Dangoor Education since 2010.​