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Liver cancer

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Symptoms of liver cancer

Liver cancer may not cause any signs or symptoms in its early stages. The liver is a large organ and can function normally even with a large tumour. Signs and symptoms often appear once the tumour grows and causes changes in the body, such as blocking the bile ducts. Other health conditions, including scarring of the liver (called cirrhosis), can cause the same symptoms as liver cancer.

See your doctor if you have these signs or symptoms:

  • pain in the abdomen, which may move up through the right shoulder
  • a lump or mass under the ribs
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • loss of appetite
  • feeling full after a small meal (called early satiety)
  • diarrhea
  • constipation
  • weight loss
  • swelling of the abdomen caused by a buildup of fluid (called malignant ascites)
  • swelling in the legs and feet caused by a buildup of fluid (called edema)
  • fatigue
  • weakness
  • a general sense of discomfort or illness (called malaise)

Hepatic encephalopathy develops when the liver doesn’t work properly and waste products build up in the blood. Symptoms include:

  • breath with a sweet or musty odour
  • confusion
  • forgetfulness
  • drowsiness
  • personality or mood changes
  • nervousness and anxiety
  • slurred speech
  • changes to sleep patterns
  • shaking or problems controlling hands and arms
  • coma

Portal hypertension is an increase in blood pressure in the hepatic portal vein (the main vein that brings blood to the liver). It can develop when a liver tumour blocks the flow of blood in the vein. It can also develop with liver scarring (cirrhosis). The increase in pressure causes large veins (called varices) to develop in the stomach and esophagus to get around the blockage. Varices are very fragile and can bleed easily. Symptoms of portal hypertension include:

  • a lump on the left side of the abdomen, caused by a swollen spleen
  • buildup of fluid in the abdomen (called ascites)
  • shortness of breath, caused by a buildup of fluid around the lungs (called pleural effusion)
  • blood in the stool, which makes the stool black and tarry
  • vomiting blood


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