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What are the Symptoms of Liver Cancer?

Many patients do not experience symptoms; the cancer is discovered during routine follow-up tests for a previous cancer outside of the liver, or during diagnostic testing for the presence of cirrhosis or viral hepatitis B or C. Symptoms of liver cancer may include:

Pain: Pain, although rarely associated with liver cancer, may be located on the right side of the upper abdomen, in the right shoulder, or in the back. The primary cause of this pain is the stretching of the liver capsule.

Fever: Fever is always a possible sign of infection. Fever, without infection, is occasionally associated with liver cancer.

Jaundice: Jaundice shows up as yellow skin and eyes, dark urine, and light colored stool. Jaundice occurs when a substance called bilirubin builds up in the blood. Bilirubin is made in the liver to help with fat metabolism and then travels down the bile duct just before emptying into the duodenum, a section of the small intestine. If a large amount of the liver is replaced by tumor, or if bile duct obstruction occurs, bilirubin builds up in the blood. This buildup causes a person to become noticeably yellow, or jaundiced. The other signs of jaundice are a change in stool color (stools become white) and a change in urine color. Itching can occur when bilirubin builds up in the blood. Obstructed (blocked) bile ducts can increase the risk of infection, including sepsis (infection in the blood).

Indigestion, lack of appetite, nausea, and weight loss: These symptoms can occur when a liver tumor presses against the stomach and small intestine. Problems with digestion may also occur for complex reasons not specifically related to the location of the tumor.

Abdominal or leg swelling: Abdominal fluid (ascites) can build up in the setting of chronic (long-standing) liver disease. It may be accompanied by swelling of the legs. Abdominal and leg swelling can also be caused by other illnesses such as heart or kidney disease. Liver cancers can be associated with ascites (abdominal fluid). This fluid can be removed temporarily with a needle (paracentesis) or sometimes can be controlled with diuretics (fluid pills).