Liver cancer symptoms: One ‘unsettling’ sign you may not know about

Liver cancer is cancer that begins in the cells of your liver. Several types of cancer can form in the liver. Cancer that starts in the liver (primary liver cancer) doesn’t usually cause symptoms in the early stages. However, people may experience a noticeable change in their body.

Pain or swelling in the abdomen (tummy) is a symptom of liver cancer.

According to Cancer research UK, two factors may contribute to this swelling.

  • The liver gets bigger from the growing cancer, and causes swelling on the right side of your abdomen
  • The cancer (or cirrhosis) increases pressure in the liver causing blood to back up in the vessels (veins). This forces fluid out of the veins into the abdomen (ascites)

As the charity explained, the increased pressure in the veins can make them swell so they might be seen under the surface of a person’s abdomen.

Ascites can also develop when the liver isn’t making enough blood protein (albumin).

Ascites is the abnormal buildup of fluid in the abdomen.

A swollen abdomen might cause discomfort or pain

Cancer Research UK

As the health body explained: “A swollen abdomen might cause discomfort or pain, and a loss of appetite or feeling full quickly.”

A swollen (enlarged) liver can cause pain in your right shoulder, the health site said.

“This is because the enlarged liver stimulates nerves that connect to nerves in the shoulder. It is called referred pain,” it added.

According to the NHS, other symptoms of liver cancer may include:

  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Feeling sick and vomiting
  • Pain or swelling in the abdomen (tummy)
  • Jaundice (yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes)
  • Itchy skin
  • Feeling very tired and weak

A person should consult their GP if they recognise any of the symptoms listed above, advised the NHS.

“They’re more likely to be the result of a more common condition, such as an infection, but it’s best to have them checked,” it added.

Assessing the risk

According to Cancer Research UK, a person’s risk of developing liver cancer will depend on a range of factors such as age, genetics, lifestyle and environmental factors.

Although liver cancer can happen at any age, it is most common in older people. Most people diagnosed are over the age of 60. The highest rates are in 85 to 89 year olds.

Other risk factors may include

  • Liver cirrhosis (scarring of the liver)
  • Smoking
  • Being overweight
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Having non alcoholic fatty liver disease
  • Infection with hepatitis viruses
  • Diabetes
  • Gallstones or gallbladder removal
  • Family history
  • Exposure to the chemical vinyl chloride

Having any of the above risk factors doesn’t mean that a person will definitely develop liver cancer, explained the Cancer Research UK.

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