Liver Cancer

Symptoms of Liver Cancer

People who have liver cancer may have slightly different symptoms, depending on the type of cancer. It’s important to remember that these symptoms can also be caused by other, less serious medical problems.

If you do have any symptoms, you should see your doctor right away. Only special tests performed by a doctor can tell whether you have cancer.

You can have liver cancer for months or years before developing any symptoms. Liver cancer symptoms do not usually appear until the cancer has grown relatively large. As the cancer grows, it pushes against other parts of the liver or other organs in the abdomen, which can lead to symptoms.

People with liver cancer may have one or more of these symptoms:

  • Weight loss
  • Change in eating habits: A gradual lack of appetite that lasts for a long time or a feeling of being very full even after not eating much.
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Lump or mass: An unexplained lump or mass in the upper right side of the abdomen or in the stomach area may be a tumor growing on the liver. The abdomen may grow quickly if a tumor is present.
  • Pain: Constant pain in the upper right side of your abdomen or in your stomach area may be a sign that a tumor is growing inside your liver. The tumor may be pushing against another part of your body, causing pain.
  • Jaundice and/or persistent itching: Jaundice is caused by too much bilirubin (a substance in bile) in the body. Excess bilirubin can turn the eyes and skin yellow. Medical experts believe that the buildup of bilirubin in the body can lead to severe itching. If you notice either of these symptoms, you should seek prompt medical attention.
  • Bleeding: Irritation and swelling of the blood vessels in the upper gastrointestinal tract can cause blood-tinged vomiting that can signal liver cancer. Frequent bruising and severe bleeding from small cuts or even after activities like brushing your teeth can also indicate liver failure due to underlying cancer.
  • Fever: Prolonged cyclical fever without other evidence of infection can be a sign of cancer.
  • Abdominal swelling or bloating

Metastatic Liver Cancer Symptoms

Metastatic liver cancer affects people in different ways. The most common symptoms include:

  • Weight loss
  • Poor appetite
  • Enlarged, hard and tender liver
  • Fever
  • Enlarged spleen
  • Ascites: Fluid buildup in the abdominal cavity
  • Jaundice: Yellowing of the skin and eyes
  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness

Liver cancer symptoms may differ based on the type of liver cancer you have.

Diagnosing Liver Cancer

We use the same tools to diagnose both primary and metastatic liver cancer.

In addition to performing a complete medical history and physical examination, your physician may order diagnostic procedures for liver cancer that include one or more of these tests:

Liver Biopsy

In this procedure, we remove tissue samples from your liver (with a needle or during surgery) for examination under a microscope. The three types of liver biopsies include:

  • Percutaneous or needle biopsy: You receive a local anesthetic, then your physician inserts the special biopsy needle into your liver to take a sample. Ultrasonography or fluoroscopy (a type of X-ray “movie”) may be used to guide the biopsy needle insertion. Physicians perform most liver biopsies using this technique.
  • Laparoscopic or open biopsy: You receive a general anesthetic, then your physician makes an incision in the skin and surgically removes a piece of your liver. Depending on the lab findings, you may need further surgery.
  • Transvenous biopsy: You receive a local anesthetic, then your physician makes an incision into a vein on one side of your neck and inserts a specially designed hollow tube called a sheath through the vein down to the liver. Tissue samples are removed through the tube from inside the liver.

Liver Function Tests

This series of special blood tests can determine if the liver is functioning properly.

Abdominal Ultrasound (Sonography)

This diagnostic imaging technique uses high-frequency sound waves to create an image of the internal organs. We use ultrasounds to view internal organs of the abdomen such as the liver, spleen and kidneys and to assess blood flow through various vessels.

Computed Tomography (CT) Scan

This noninvasive medical test uses special X-ray equipment with sophisticated computers to produce multiple images or pictures of the inside of the body.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Scan

This noninvasive medical test or examination uses a large magnet and a computer to take pictures of the inside of your body.