Liver Cancer Symptoms

A lengthy period of time passes between the start of hepatic cancer and the onset of identifiable symptoms. Even when liver cancer symptoms develop, they are often vague and could point to a variety of possible ailments. This explains, in part,pthe high mortality rate associated with the disease: by the time liver cancer symptoms appear, the cancer is already well established.

Initial liver cancer symptoms include fatigue, fever, unexplained weight loss and a lack of appetite. Bleeding or bruising easily occurs as the liver loses the ability to produce blood-clotting agents. Jaundice and ascites (fluid in the abdomen) may develop as the disease advances. Jaundice occurs when ducts to and from the gallbladder become blocked, causing an increase in blood levels of bilirubin. Symptoms include yellow skin and eyes and dark-colored urine.

Symptoms at a Glance

The following are common symptoms of liver cancer. Not all of these are present in all people and, for many people, no recognizable symptoms are present until the final stages of the disease.

  • fatigue
  • fever
  • abdominal pain
  • unexplained weight loss
  • lack of appetite
  • bleeding or bruising easily
  • jaundice
  • ascites.

As the tumor grows, the patient may feel pain in the upper right abdomen. The pain often extends into the back and shoulders as the liver enlarges. Physical examination may reveal the hard lump of the tumor, often just below the rib cage.

Symptoms of cirrhosis and malignancy (including easy bruising, jaundice and unexplained weight loss) often become more severe as a tumor grows. If symptoms suddenly worsen, consult a doctor immediately.

Complications

The following are complications associated with liver cancer:

Internal Bleeding: A growing tumor may block the portal vein, which carries blood from the intestines into the liver. Blood in the vein backs up and tries to return to the heart through smaller blood vessels in the esophagus and stomach. These smaller vessels cannot handle such large amounts of blood and may rupture, causing dangerous internal bleeding in the upper gastrointestinal tract.

More rarely, internal bleeding can occur if the tumor itself ruptures, flooding the abdominal cavity with blood.

Metastasis: Metastases occur when cancerous cells travel through the bloodstream and contaminate other organs. Metastasis usually occurs at advanced stages of hepatic cancer and treatment options are severely limited at this stage.

Liver Failure: Once a tumor causes so much damage that the liver can no longer perform its basic functions, liver failure occurs. As the ability to produce many of the body’s essential chemicals, enzymes and nutrients are lost with the onset of liver failure, the condition often proves to be fatal.

Resources

American Cancer Society. (updated 2005). What is liver cancer?

Frey, R. J. (2005). Liver cancer. Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine.

National Library of Medicine. (updated 2004). Hepatocellular carcinoma. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia.