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Signs and Symptoms of Liver Cancer to Watch Out For

Medically reviewed by John Paul Abrina, MD · Oncology · Davao Doctors Hospital

Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Jun 18, 2021

Signs and Symptoms of Liver Cancer to Watch Out For

The symptoms of liver cancer do not appear early, that’s why it’s very important to watch out for them. According to the 2018 data from the Global Cancer Observatory, liver cancer has the 2nd highest mortality rate in the Philippines.

This means that, in the Philippines, liver cancer has the most number of deaths next to lung cancer, which ranked 1st. It ranks 4th as the cancer type with the highest incidence rate. In other words, liver cancer has the fourth most number of new cases in that year.

The truth is, there’s no widely accepted diagnostic test for liver cancer. That’s why people with a family history of cancer are advised to talk to their doctor. They should ask about the proper measures of monitoring their individual risks. Additionally, they can also discuss steps to reduce the possibility of liver cancer.

Since early detection vastly increases the success rate of treatment, education is important. In this article, we will tackle the warning signs of liver cancer.

The Most Common Symptoms of Liver Cancer

It’s easy to confuse the symptoms of liver cancer with the signs of other diseases. Hence, you must consider the following with care:

Liver Pain

Because the liver is the affected area, it’s only natural to feel pain there. The only point of concern is how you perceive this symptom of liver cancer.

For most people, the pain is located on the right upper part of the abdomen. It is not surprising since the liver is in that area. However, some patients report that they can feel the pain near their right shoulder blade.

Others feel the ache on their back. This pain occurs when the capsule of the liver is stretched. Because of the way our nervous system is connected, there might be a phenomenon called referred pain, in which pain occurring in a particular site in your body might be felt in another place.

Weight Loss

Weight loss, especially when unexplained, is also one of the symptoms of liver cancer. Since there are a lot of reasons why a person loses weight, it is important to be observant. Liver cancer produces other symptoms that can result in weight loss. They are:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Feeling of fullness after eating a small meal

If you’re not trying to lose weight and it’s still happening, talk to your doctor about it.

Abdominal Enlargement

You might want to cross-check abdominal enlargement with weight loss. How come my belly increases in size when I’m losing weight? Typically, an enlarged abdomen happens because of:

  • Hepatomegaly. Hepatomegaly means your liver is larger than normal. This happens when one or more parts of the liver are not functioning well. Because the liver increases in size, it can also enlarge the abdomen.
  • Splenomegaly. Splenomegaly is the enlargement of the spleen. You can feel it on the left side of the tummy.
  • Lump or mass. Since we’re talking about the warning signs of liver cancer, the development of a mass is naturally included. You can feel the tumor on the right side of the belly.
  • Fluid Build-up. One of the symptoms of liver cancer that causes abdominal enlargement is fluid build-up or ascites. This happens because the cancer makes the abdominal wall “leaky.”


Jaundice is one of the common symptoms of liver cancer. It is the medical term for the “yellowing” of the skin and eyes. Note that jaundice is a typical symptom whenever the liver has a problem. That’s why you can also notice it on people who have liver cirrhosis (scarring) and hepatitis (inflammation).

White, Chalky Stool

The stool gets its normal, brownish color from bile. Bile is the digestive fluid produced by the liver. If the liver has a problem, then it might not produce bile. Likewise, a tumor can also block its release. For this reason, the white and chalky stool is considered as one of the symptoms of liver cancer.


Itching is also one of the symptoms of liver cancer. It happens when the tumor blocks the bile duct. The blockage will make different chemicals “seep through” the skin. This will cause an itchy sensation. The itch depends from person to person. You may have a localized itching while others have the sensation all over their body.

The Hormone-Induced Symptoms of Liver Cancer

Aside from the ones mentioned above, a person with liver cancer can also develop the following symptoms. Please note that these symptoms of liver cancer are caused by the hormones produced by the tumor.

These hormones act on the other organs of the body, thereby causing:

  • High levels of cholesterol.
  • High counts of erythrocytes or red blood cells (RBCs). Some people with liver cancer look “flushed” because of the high RBC count. If not exactly flushed, then their skin develops a red tinge.
  • Breast enlargement for women.
  • Shrinking of testicles for men.
  • High levels of calcium in the blood. This symptom alone can cause confusion, muscle weakness, and constipation.
  • Low blood sugar, which contributes to the feeling of fatigue and faint.

Finally, the other warning signs of liver cancer include developing a fever and fatigue. Fever without a known underlying condition should already raise concern. Even more so if you are always tired despite not doing anything.

The symptoms of liver cancer listed above are not meant to give a diagnosis. As mentioned earlier, they could be caused by other conditions that may or may not be related to the liver.

As always, the best course of action is to consult your doctor.

Key Takeaways on the Symptoms of Liver Cancer

The symptoms of liver cancer mostly include liver pain, abdominal enlargement, and weight loss.

Since reports say that people notice the symptoms late in the disease progression, it’s good to be vigilant. Make it a point to talk to your doctor when something out of the ordinary happens in your body.


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

John Paul Abrina, MD

Oncology · Davao Doctors Hospital

Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Jun 18, 2021

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