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Liver cancer occurs when the healthy cells within this organ develop and behave unnaturally. Though several factors increase one's vulnerability to liver cancer, alcoholism, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C are acknowledged to be the leading causes of the disease. According to international statistics, liver cancer is one of the most prevalent types of fatal malignant tumor. Several treatments are available, but as with all cancers, prognosis and treatment depend on the type of tumor, how far cancer has spread, the state of the liver, and person's general health.

Abdominal swelling

Ascites or abdominal swelling is a distinctive symptom of liver cancer. It occurs due to the build-up of fluid in the peritoneal cavity when malfunctioning cells (cancer cells) render the liver ineffective. The abdominal swelling is often outwardly visible. A physical examination of the abdominal region can detect whether the cause for distension is ascites; an abdominal ultrasound can further confirm the diagnosis.

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Enlarged spleen

In more advanced stages of liver cancer, the liver or spleen may become enlarged, which causes an expansion in the corresponding outer area and often renders the region tender to the touch. An enlarged liver is evident as a mass under the ribs on the right side of the body. An enlarged spleen is felt as a mass under the ribs on the left side.

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Jaundice

People with liver cancer may develop jaundice, a yellowish hue on the skin and whites of the eyes. This discoloration occurs when there is an excess of a yellow-orange substance called bilirubin in the blood. Bilirubin is present in red blood cells, and upon their death, the liver should filter it out of the bloodstream and into the waste waiting to leave the body. When the liver has a malignant tumor, it may gradually lose the capacity to filter out bilirubin, causing jaundice.

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Abdominal pain

A large number of individuals with liver cancer report feeling pain in the upper abdominal region that ranges from mild to moderate discomfort. This pain may be attributed to ascites or the fluid build-up that pressurizes the stomach lining when the abdomen is severely distended. When the liver or spleen is enlarged, the stomach is compressed, causing pain. In many cases, the pain tends to develop or intensify following meals.

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Appetite loss

Liver cancer incites a loss of appetite in most people. Often, portion size and frequency of meals decrease without apparent cause. Moreover, people report a feeling of fullness in the stomach even after the smallest of meals. Lack of appetite is not only a symptom but can also exacerbate other symptoms because it results in insufficient energy consumption and nutrient deficiencies.

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Abnormal stool

When there's a problem with drainage in the biliary system, the quality of the stool changes. Tumors in the liver cause compromised liver function. Bile salts are ordinarily released into stool by the liver, giving bowel movements their normal color. A lack of these salts makes stool pale, white or chalky in appearance. While this may occur occasionally in healthy individuals too, the frequent recurrence of abnormal stool may be a sign of liver cancer.

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Skin itching

There are several reasons liver cancer may cause itching. Itching can be caused by cancer treatment (ie chemotherapy) or cancer itself. Itching may also occur when the body has reduced the ability to clear certain toxins, due to liver cancer. Additionally, medical professionals associate itching with an increased amount of jaundice-causing bilirubin in the system.

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Nausea

The presence of tumors in the liver may incite frequent spells of nausea and vomiting, especially after meals. Given the vital role the liver plays in the digestive process, when the organ is unable to perform its metabolic function correctly, such gastrointestinal disturbances may occur.

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Unintended weight loss

With the appetite decreasing and the energy demands of the body increasing to product malignant cells and also fight the disease, there becomes a disjunction between the body's need and its nutritive supply. This leads to rapid and unintended weight loss in a span of a few months. Muscle loss experienced by individuals with cancer also leads to weight loss. Any quick, unexplained weight loss should be medically investigated.

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General fatigue

People with liver cancer often feel consistently tired and weak. This malaise is due to high energy consumption, due to the demands of both the cancerous cells and the immune response attempting to fight them. When food does not adequately meet energy needs, fatigue is the result. Fatigue may also be due to anemia that develops in individuals with cancer. Cancer treatments can cause fatigue because the cancerous cells affect the bone marrow and cause a low red blood cell count (anemia).

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Dark urine

In some cases of liver cancer, individuals may notice that their urine becomes darker than usual. This darkening may occur due to the presence of excess bilirubin in the bloodstream, which can make its way into the urine. The color can range from amber to a deep brown hue. If you observe this change in your urine color, it's important to consult a healthcare professional for a thorough evaluation.

a jar with a urine test on a dark background

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Blood clotting issues

Liver cancer can disrupt the ratio of clotting factors in the blood. As a result, some people with this condition may experience unusual bleeding or clotting issues. Symptoms can manifest as frequent nosebleeds, easy bruising, or prolonged bleeding from minor cuts or injuries. If you notice any unexplained bleeding or clotting problems, it's essential to seek medical attention promptly.

Blood Clot or thrombus blocking the red blood cells stream within an artery or a vein 3D rendering illustration. Thrombosis, cardiovascular system, medicine, health, anatomy, pathology concepts.

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Changes in mental function

Advanced liver cancer can affect the liver's ability to filter toxins from the bloodstream, potentially leading to a condition known as hepatic encephalopathy. This can result in cognitive changes such as confusion, forgetfulness, and impaired concentration. People with liver cancer may also experience personality changes and mood swings as a result of this. These mental function alterations can be distressing, but addressing the underlying liver issues might help alleviate these symptoms.

mental function

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Bone pain

Advanced liver cancer can sometimes metastasize or spread to other parts of the body, including the bones. When this occurs, individuals may experience bone pain, which can range from a dull ache to sharp, intense discomfort. This pain is often localized to the affected bone and may worsen with movement or pressure. If you have liver cancer and develop bone pain, it's crucial to discuss your symptoms with your healthcare provider for appropriate management.

Digitally composite image of man suffering with knee cramp

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Muscle weakness

Liver cancer can lead to muscle weakness in affected individuals. This weakness may manifest as difficulty in performing everyday activities, such as lifting objects or climbing stairs. Such weakness can be particularly debilitating, and potentially affect one's overall quality of life. Muscle weakness is often linked to the result of the body's increased energy demands as it combats the disease, and addressing the underlying liver cancer may effectively help alleviate this symptom.

Asian young male physiotherapist helping patient with lifting dumbbells exercises in office.

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Disclaimer

This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.