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Liver cancer

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Signs and symptoms of liver cancer

A sign is something that can be observed and recognized by a doctor or healthcare professional (for example, a rash). A symptom is something that only the person experiencing it can feel and know (for example, pain or tiredness). Liver cancer may not cause any signs or symptoms in its early stages, especially in people who have liver cirrhosis (scarring caused by liver disease). The liver is a large organ and can function normally even with a large tumour. Symptoms appear once the tumour grows into surrounding tissues and organs. Some people with advanced liver cancer may not have any symptoms.

The signs and symptoms of liver cancer can also be caused by other health conditions. It is important to have any unusual symptoms checked by a doctor.

Signs and symptoms of liver cancer include:

  • pain in the abdomen
    • may move up through the right shoulder
  • a lump or mass under the ribs
    • on the right side (from an enlarged liver)
    • on the left side (from an enlarged spleen)
  • jaundicejaundiceA condition in which the skin and whites of the eyes become yellow and urine is dark yellow.
    • may be caused by a blocked bile duct or liver failure
  • weight loss
  • fatigue
  • weakness
  • changes to digestion
    • nausea
    • vomiting
    • loss of appetite
    • feeling full after a small meal (early satiety)
  • change in bowel habits
    • diarrhea
    • constipation
  • malaisemalaiseA general feeling of discomfort or illness.
  • swelling of the legs and feet (edema)
  • hepatic encephalopathy
    • may be caused by the buildup of waste products in the blood when the liver does not function properly
    • signs and symptoms include:
      • confusion
      • forgetfulness
      • drowsiness
      • personality changes
      • breath with a sweet or musty odour
      • unconsciousness, coma
  • portal hypertension
    • increased pressure in the hepatic portal vein causing:
      • enlarged spleen
      • buildup of fluid in the abdomen (ascites)
      • buildup of fluid around the lungs (pleural effusion)
      • bleeding into the esophagus (the muscular tube in the neck and chest through which food passes from the throat to the stomach) from swollen veins (esophageal varices)

Rare signs and symptoms

Rare signs and symptoms of liver cancer are:

  • Budd-Chiari syndrome
    • blood clots block the hepatic vein and cause:
      • swollen abdomen
      • fatigue
      • jaundice
      • enlarged spleen
      • esophageal varices
  • paraneoplastic syndromeparaneoplastic syndromeA group of symptoms that occurs when substances released by cancer cells disrupt the normal function of nearby or distant organs or tissues.
    • low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
    • high calcium in the blood (hypercalcemia)
  • spontaneous rupture and bleeding of the liver – very rare


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