Here's What Liver Cancer Feels Like, Say Physicians
According to the CDC, liver cancer kills 18,600 men and 9,000 women in the U.S. every year. While early stages of liver cancer typically have few symptoms, there are certain warning signs of liver cancer you should never ignore. "In its early stages, liver cancer may not have symptoms that can be seen or felt. However, as the cancer grows larger, people may notice one or more of these common symptoms. It's important to remember that these symptoms could also be caused by other health conditions. If you have any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor," says the CDC. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
Unexplained Weight Loss
"Because the liver plays a key role in the digestive system, cirrhosis and cancer in the liver can both cause you to lose your appetite and you may lose weight," explains Cancer Council NSW. "Chemotherapy, radiation therapy and other cancer treatments can also have an impact, especially if you experience side effects such as nausea and vomiting, mouth ulcers, and taste and smell changes."
Jaundice is a yellowing of the skin and eyes as a result of too much bilirubin in the blood, due to obstruction of the bile ducts connecting the pancreas to the liver. "It's one of the first symptoms a patient may notice," says Jason A. Castellanos, MD, MS, surgical oncologist at Fox Chase Cancer Center. "The bottom line is, it's crucial to identify the cause of jaundice quickly."
Itchy skin—or pruritus—is often connected to jaundice, and a common symptom of liver cancer. "Pruritus is a common comorbidity in chronic liver disease and kidney disease," according to a paper published in the journal Scientific Reports. "These patients frequently complain of pruritus despite having no rash or skin findings. Patients with chronic liver disease develop systemic itch that significantly impairs activity and sleep. Often, it is not relieved by scratching itchy areas of the skin. Patients with primary biliary cholangitis (PBC) frequently suffer from pruritus in chronic liver disease."
Nausea is frequently linked to liver cancer, usually in combination with other symptoms. "The symptoms of liver cancer may differ slightly, depending on the type of tumor you have," explains Stanford Healthcare. "Please remember that other conditions can cause similar symptoms, so it is important to see an experienced physician for an accurate diagnosis."
Abdominal pain—or a consistent pain in your right shoulder—could be a symptom of liver cancer. "You should never ignore liver pain," warns Carolina Digestive Health Associates. "It's not something with a benign cause, such as stomach cramping when you have the stomach flu or a headache when you have a cold. If you are experiencing distinct pain in the liver area, you should seek help from a physician immediately."
When Should I See a Doctor?
If you are experiencing any or all of these symptoms, speak to your healthcare provider as soon as possible to rule out any potential issues. Also, in general, says the CDC:
- "Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all. If you choose to drink alcohol, limit the amount you drink. For women, this means no more than one drink a day. For men, this means no more than two drinks a day.
- Maintain a healthy weight. If your current weight is healthy, work to maintain it by choosing a healthy diet and exercising most days of the week. If you need to lose weight, reduce the number of calories you eat each day and increase the amount of exercise you do. Aim to lose weight slowly — 1 or 2 pounds (0.5 to 1 kilograms) each week."