Liver cancer symptoms may vary depending on the type of liver cancer that a patient has. As is the case with many types of cancer, liver cancer may not cause any symptoms in its initial stages, while some patients may have vague symptoms that are related to more common conditions.
The liver is located in the right side of the upper abdomen, just under the rib cage, which is where many liver cancer symptoms will initially appear. Oftentimes, patients with liver cancer may notice swelling or the formation of hard lumps in this area, either of which may be accompanied by pain. This pain can sometimes also be felt in the back, below the right shoulder blade.
In addition to pain and swelling, a patient may experience a variety of other liver cancer symptoms. Some of these symptoms may include:
- Loss of appetite
- Chronic abdominal pain
- Unexplained weight loss
- Feeling very full after a small meal
- Changes in the color of stool and urine
Since liver cancer symptoms may vary from person to person and can often be hard to identify, it’s particularly important for people to promptly speak with a physician about their symptoms. Early diagnosis of liver cancer can lead to better outcomes and improved quality of life.
How to reduce your risk of developing liver cancer
Drinking alcohol in moderation, or just not drinking it at all, can significantly help reduce your risk of developing liver cancer. This is because heavy, long-term alcohol consumption can cause scarring and inflammation in the liver. Cirrhosis of the liver, which is characterized by irreversible liver damage, is a form of liver disease caused by excessive, consistent alcohol use. It is also the main risk factor for liver cancer. This is due to cell mutations that can form as the body tries to repair damaged tissues. The American Cancer Society recommends no more than two alcoholic beverages a day for men and no more than one alcoholic beverage a day for women.
Limiting alcohol use can help prevent liver cancer, but there are a variety of other ways to reduce your risk, including:
- Avoiding tobacco products
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Exercising regularly
- Taking steps to avoid becoming infected with the hepatitis B and C viruses (ex: avoiding unprotected sex and only using sterilized needles for medical purposes)
- Avoiding exposure to arsenic and aflatoxins
- Avoiding anabolic steroids to build muscle
What is metastatic liver cancer?
Metastatic (secondary) liver cancer is a malignant tumor that originates in a different part of the body and then spreads to the liver through the bloodstream or lymphatic system. It is diagnosed more often than primary liver cancer. Some of the most common symptoms of metastatic liver cancer include:
- Persistent vomiting
- Black stool
- Unexplained weight loss
- Difficulty swallowing
- Abdominal pain or swelling/bloating
- Fatigue or weakness
There are a variety of cancers that can spread to the liver from other parts of the body, including:
- Breast cancer
- Lung cancer
- Esophageal cancer
- Thyroid cancer
- Stomach cancer
- Bladder cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Uterine cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Squamous cell carcinoma of the anus
Many liver metastases start as cancer in the colon or rectum due to a large blood vessel (the portal vein) that connects the blood supply between the gastrointestinal tract and the liver.
What to know about liver cancer screenings
If you are at high risk for developing liver cancer, routine screenings can help identify abnormalities in their earliest stages. Even if you are at low risk, your physician may recommend occasional screenings. Early detection and diagnosis offers the widest variety of treatment options and the highest survival rates for individuals diagnosed with liver cancer.
Moffitt Cancer Center’s approach to liver cancer
Moffitt’s Gastrointestinal Oncology Program has a multispecialty team composed of surgeons, radiation oncologists, pathologists, supportive care professionals and other experts who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of liver cancer, as well as ways to reduce this condition’s side effects. If our physicians find that your symptoms indicate liver cancer, they will confirm a diagnosis and create an individualized treatment plan that may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and other progressive forms of treatment. Patients who qualify may be recommended to participate in one of our clinical trials, which offers the latest treatment options not yet available anywhere else. Moffitt is home to a diverse team of physicians who are well versed in the most innovative treatments, allowing patients to receive the best available liver cancer treatments in one convenient location.