Identifying early signs of liver cancer

Liver cancer begins in the cells of your liver. It is difficult to figure out liver cancer early as the signs and symptoms of liver cancer do not appear until it is in its advanced stages. Most importantly, the small and discrete liver tumors are especially hard to identify on a physical examination as most part of the liver remains covered by the right rib cage. And by the time a liver tumor can be felt, it might already be quite large and at a stage from where recovery would get really complicated. 

However, with so much information on the internet, it can get overwhelming. We understand the confusion, and that’s why we decided to come up with this article that helps you learn all that you need to know about the early signs of liver cancer.

What is Liver Cancer?

The liver is a critical and largest glandular organ in the body. It performs several vital functions to help the body filter out toxins and harmful substances. The liver produces bile, an enzyme that helps in digesting vitamins, fats, and various other nutrients. This vital organ is also responsible for storing nutrients like glucose so that the body can constantly derive energy even when you’re fasting or not eating. Besides, it also helps to break down the medications. 

When cancer hits or develops in the liver cells, it readily destroys the regular liver cells and interferes with the functionality of the liver. This indicates that the basic functions of the liver won’t be able to carry it out. 

Liver cancer is typically classified as primary and secondary cancer. Primary liver cancer develops in the regular liver while secondary liver cancer develops when cancer hits and spreads from another organ in the body. This process happens through metastasis, where the cancer cells break away from the primary site and travel through the bloodstream or lymphatic system to another secondary site. 

What Are the Different Types of Primary Liver Cancer?

There are four different types of Primary Liver cancer that are classified based on their origin. Primary liver cancer can start to develop from a single lump growing in the liver, or it can start in many places within the liver at the same time. People who have severe liver damage are susceptible to multiple cancer growth sites. Now, let’s look at the main sites of primary liver cancer:

Hepatocellular carcinoma

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), or hepatoma, is probably the most common type of liver cancer as it accounts for almost 75 percent of all liver cancers. It develops in the predominant liver cells called hepatocytes. People with severe liver damage are more prone to have primary liver cancer due to alcohol abuse.


Cholangiocarcinoma that is also known as bile duct cancer, develops in the bile ducts present in the liver. These ducts are responsible to transport bile to the gallbladder. Bile duct cancer accounts for 10 to 20 percent of all liver cancers. When cancer begins in the section of the ducts inside the liver, it’s called intrahepatic bile duct cancer. 

Liver Angiosarcoma

This is a rare form of liver cancer that develops in the blood vessels of the liver. This cancer is generally diagnosed at advanced stages which indicates that it progresses super quick.


Hepatoblastoma is another rare type of liver cancer. Typically, it’s found in kids, who are the age of three. If hepatoblastoma is detected in the early stages, the survival rate shoots up to 90 percent. So, constant tests are the only way to detect it early.

Although these liver cancers differ in the way they develop and their origin, some do have similar symptoms. 

What are the Frequent Symptoms of Liver Cancer? 

Like most cancer, liver cancer usually has few symptoms or signs in the early stages of the disease. As cancer progresses, symptoms begin to appear which prompts people to seek medical attention. However, if there’s a delayed diagnosis, it can not only complicate the whole situation but also sometimes turn out fatal. Typically, liver cancer is detected at later stages unless the cancerous tumor developed near the bile duct and led to obstruction. Here are a few early symptoms that would help you determine cancer early on. 

  1. An Abdominal Lump 

Any mass or lump is not a good sign. Thus, if you feel that there’s a hard lump right below your right rib cage, it’s time to go see a doctor. Although not all masses are harmful, yet if you feel any form of discomfort in the surrounding areas, you should get it checked.

  1. Right-Sided Abdominal Pain 

As the liver is on your right side,  you might feel a form of pain, aching, or discomfort. This happens when the liver tumor puts pressure on the nerves of the surrounding region. To check, you should take a deep breath and then lightly press upward under your right rib cage to feel the pain.

  1. Jaundice 

Jaundice is a common and early symptom of cancer and is caused by the constant build-up of bile salts in your skin. This clearly suggests that your liver might be at risk and not functioning properly. Jaundice is a condition where along with the skin, the white part of the eyes also starts to appear yellow. Jaundice is detected easily in natural light, thus it gets easier to determine.

  1. Itching

The deposit of bile salts in the skin can also give rise to itching. Although it’s still not treated as the best symptom, yet the itching associated with liver dysfunction can get intense and difficult to handle.

  1. Bloating and Shortness of Breath

If you feel exceptionally uncomfortable with the fluid build-up in your abdomen, it can point towards liver cancer. You might notice changes like your trousers or pants, not fitting your waistline properly, even when you haven’t gained weight. Besides, fluid build-up in the abdomen can also cause shortness of breath, as it pushes your lungs forward.

  1. Unexplained Weight Loss or Gain

If you notice unexplained weight loss, even when you have not been dieting or exercising too much, it is always better to visit the doctor. Still, confused? Well, unexplained weight loss is defined as when a person loses 5 percent of body weight or more in a course of six- to 12-month period without any change in habits or trying. Such rapid weight loss also indicates possible signs of liver cancer. 

  1. Loss of Appetite

Loss of appetite is a common sign of many diseases. However, this early sign might be more prominent with liver cancers. So, anytime you notice this warning sign, it’s time to schedule a visit with your physician.

  1. Nausea and Vomiting

Both of these warning signs are common symptoms for all stages of cancer. Although there can be several reasons for nausea and vomiting, it starts to occur frequently, or worsen, you should talk to your doctor.

  1. Fatigue and/or Weakness

Although it seems everyone can feel tired when they are unwell. However, things often take a new turn. Cancer fatigue is real and it doesn’t improve with a good night’s sleep. So, whenever you start noticing such instances, it’s easier said than done, try to gauge your energy levels. 

When Should Seek Doctor consultation? 

If you come across any of the symptoms or signs that indicate liver cancer or signs that are beyond your explanation, go give your doctor a visit. While it may not be cancer, it’s always better to get yourself checked. After all, if cancer develops it’s always better to get a prognosis done than waiting for the symptoms to show up. Even when you are not at risk, it is worth it to keep tests done and talk to your People who have no risk factors for liver cancer and can develop the disease at times—something worth keeping in mind if you’re unsure about speaking with your physician. If you notice any of these symptoms, contact your doctor right away instead of waiting for your next scheduled appointment.

Read More:- Types of liver cancer

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