Knowing the signs of liver cancer could save your life
Your liver is the largest organ in your body beyond your skin, and it does a lot of important work.
It makes bile to help digest fat from the foods you eat. It removes toxins and waste from your blood. It activates and regulates important hormones, and it stores energy for your body.
So liver diseases, such as cancer, can be serious health problems.
About 30,000 Americans are diagnosed with primary liver cancer each year. The term “primary” means the cancer started in the liver. Metastatic liver cancer starts somewhere else and spreads to the liver, which is is more common than cancers that begin there.
You’re at higher risk for liver cancer if you:
- Have (or have had) hepatitis B or C
- Heavily use alcohol
- Have cirrhosis – chronic scarring and damage to the liver
- Have hemochromatosis – an iron storage disease
- Are obese or have diabetes
Early liver cancer may not cause symptoms. But after the cancer has grown, common symptoms include:
- Pain in the upper abdomen on the right side
- Pain near the right shoulder blade or in the back
- A lump on your right side just below the rib cage or a heavy feeling in the upper abdomen
- Swollen abdomen (bloating)
- Loss of appetite and feelings of fullness after eating a small meal
- Unexplained weight loss
- Unusual weakness or fatigue
- Nausea and vomiting
- Yellow skin and eyes (jaundice), pale stools and dark urine
- Easy bruising or bleeding
- Unexplained fever
These symptoms may be caused by liver cancer or other health problems. If you have any of these symptoms, you should tell your doctor so that problems can be diagnosed and treated as early as possible.
If liver cancer is diagnosed, there are a number of treatment options. They range from simply keeping an eye on an especially small lesion that may not become a problem to various therapies or surgery. In more extreme cases, a liver transplant may be the best treatment.
About the Author
Aaron H. Chevinsky, MD is the Director of Surgical Oncology at Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center in Milwaukee, WI