Liver cancer: Expert discusses symptoms and treatments
Liver cancer is when cells grow uncontrollably in any part of the liver – an organ that sits in the upper right portion of your abdomen, beneath your diaphragm and above your stomach. Most people don’t have signs and symptoms in the early stages of primary liver cancer. When signs and symptoms do appear, they can show up in your bowel habits.
According to cancer charity Macmillan, one possible warning sign of liver cancer is pale stools.
Other possible symptoms include:
- Possible symptoms of liver cancer include:
- Losing your appetite
- Feeling full soon after beginning to eat
- Weight loss for no obvious reason
- Feeling sick (nausea) and vomiting
- Feeling extremely tired (fatigued), generally weak or unwell
- Aching or pain on the right side of the tummy area (abdomen) under the ribs
- A high temperature and flu-like symptoms
- A swollen tummy, caused by fluid build-up (called ascites)
- A yellow tinge to the skin and whites of the eyes (called jaundice).
- Bruising or bleeding easily.
The symptoms are the same if the liver cancer starts in the liver (primary liver cancer) or spreads from another part of the body (secondary liver cancer).
“It is important to see your doctor if you have any of these symptoms, even though they can be caused by other conditions,” advises Macmillan.
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It adds: “It is especially important to get them checked if you have risk factors for liver cancer.”
What happens at the GP appointment
According to the NHS, the GP may feel your tummy and they may also listen to your chest.
“The GP may refer you to see a specialist in hospital for more tests if they think you have a condition that needs to be investigated,” explains the health body.
It adds: “This may be an urgent referral, usually within two weeks, if you have certain symptoms.”
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Am I at risk?
Anyone can get primary liver cancer – it’s not always clear what causes it.
However, there are some factors that are known to increase your risk, although having one or more of the risk factors doesn’t mean that you’ll definitely develop liver cancer.
According to Cancer Research UK, 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,” explains the charity.
Having cirrhosis increases your risk of developing liver cancer, warns the health body.
Cirrhosis is scarring of the liver due to previous damage – this scarring can cause problems with the way the liver works.
Cirrhosis can be caused by:
- Long term infection with a virus such as hepatitis B or C
- Long term alcohol drinking
- Inherited diseases such as iron overload disorder (haemochromatosis) and alpha 1 antitrypsin deficiency
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
- Primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC).
Other risk factors include:
- Being overweight
- Heavy alcohol use
- Having a brother, sister or parent who had primary liver cancer
What is my prognosis if I have liver cancer?
Liver cancer is often treatable, but it can be difficult to treat.
As the NHS explains, the treatment you have will depend on:
- If the cancer started in the liver (primary) or spread from somewhere else (secondary), but treatments for primary and secondary liver cancer are similar
- The size and type of liver cancer you have
- Where it is
- If it has spread
- Your general health.
“It may include surgery, chemotherapy, using heat to destroy the cancer (thermal ablation), and using targeted medicines,” says the health body.
It adds: “You’ll have regular check-ups during and after any treatments. You may also have tests and scans.”
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