The most common type of liver cancer in North America is metastatic, not primary.
This means that most liver cancers do not arise in the liver. Instead, they spread to the liver from the colon, lung or breast.
Primary liver cancer is usually discovered when the patient begins to observe symptoms. Many liver cancers are asymptomatic during the early stages of their development, meaning that they are typically detected when the cancer is advanced.
Symptoms of liver cancer include the following:
- General malaise is a common feature of liver cancer. The majority of patients report having no energy alongside general feelings of lethargy. While lethargy usually accompanies early-stage cancers, the complaints are often non-specific and do not give any clear indication that there may be a tumor lurking.
- Loss of weight is a common compliant during the later stages of liver cancer. Most people have no appetite or simply are not able to eat.
- Pain on the right side of the abdomen and back is quite common. The pain is generally moderate in nature but can be continuous. In most cases, narcotics are required to decrease the pain.
- Nausea and vomiting are also common with liver cancer. In the early stage, the nausea is mild, but later it may be persistent. Like pain, most patients require medications to reduce the nausea and vomiting episodes.
- Abdominal swelling is also a prominent feature of liver cancer. Initially the distension of the abdomen is mild, but it does increase with time. The protuberant abdomen occurs because of the presence of fluid in the region. The liver is under increased pressure and is no longer able to secrete the fluid into the blood stream. This fluid known as ascites can be massive. Most individuals need drainage of the fluid every few weeks. The ascitic fluid makes breathing difficult because it puts pressure on the diaphragm. An associated umbilical hernia can also develop at the same time as the ascites.
- Jaundice, or a yellowish discoloration of the skin and eyes, eventually occurs in all patients with liver cancer. This discoloration is due to the liver’s inability to produce blood pigments. In the absence of a functional liver, the kidneys assume the role of blood pigment excretion. The kidney’s pigments initially precipitate around the eyes, causing the yellowish color. Later, they cause the skin to turn yellow, the stools to become very light in color, and the urine to become very dark, or even black.
The symptoms above are present to some degree in all patients with liver cancer. Also, lear more about Liver Cancer Treatment.