Liver cancer: Expert discusses symptoms and treatments

Liver cancer is the 18th most common type of cancer in the UK, but the eighth most common cause of cancer death with almost 6,000 deaths each year.

Unlike some other cancers, which have seen declining rates, both diagnoses and deaths from liver cancer have risen in the UK.

As an example, there are now two-and-a-half times more cases of liver cancer in the UK than there were in the early 1990s.

There are multiple risk factors for liver cancer, with drinking alcohol only thought to account for around seven out of every 100 diagnoses.

In comparison, being overweight and smoking can each be linked to around 20 percent of liver cancer cases.

As with any disease, the sooner you spot the symptoms of liver cancer the sooner you can seek treatment.

However, in its earliest stages liver cancer often does not display symptoms.

According to Cancer Research UK, there are three signs of the illness that can appear in the abdomen (tummy).

These are:

  • Having a swollen tummy
  • Pain in your abdomen
  • A lump in the right side of your abdomen.

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“See your GP if you have any of these symptoms,” the charity says.

Cancer Research UK explained why liver cancer can affect the abdomen, listing two potential causes of swelling.

It says: “This might be because: 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).”

It adds: “The increased pressure in the veins can make them swell so they might be seen under the surface of your abdomen.

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

This can then have a knock on effect.

“A swollen abdomen might cause discomfort or pain, and a loss of appetite or feeling full quickly,” Cancer Research UK says.

“A swollen (enlarged) liver can cause pain in your right shoulder.

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

Other symptoms of liver cancer can include:

  • Weight loss
  • Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)
  • Itching
  • Feeling sick
  • Loss of appetite or feeling full after eating small amounts
  • Pain in your right shoulder.

But the charity advises: “Remember primary liver cancer isn’t common in the UK and these symptoms can be caused by other conditions. But it’s important to get them checked by a doctor.”

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