Liver cancer: the complaint in the stomach that is a warning signal for a possible disease
Although not everyone with cancer develops an obvious early symptom, there are some telltale signs of the disease that can help doctors find cancers before they progress. Early detection of cancers is key to improving survival rates for all cancers because the earlier they are detected, the sooner they can be treated.
The liver is the second largest organ in the human body, but when cancer develops there are usually not many obvious symptoms. With common complaints such as fatigue, loss of appetite, or even just feeling unwell, it can be easy to dismiss an early warning sign as just another part of everyday life.
However, because the liver is located on the right side of your abdomen, when cancerous cells begin to multiply, the organ may begin to put pressure on your stomach. This means that the biggest red flag of liver cancer is not related to the liver.
Cancer Research UK says one of the main signs is “a lump in the right side of your abdomen”, caused by the liver swelling and protruding into the intestine. For this reason, another key indicator is a bloated belly and not being hungry.
Want to get the latest health news straight to your inbox? Sign up for the Mirror Health newsletter HERE
Another seemingly unrelated symptom caused by this swelling is abnormal pain in your right shoulder. Cancer research in the UK said this happens when the liver gets bigger from the growing cancer and causes swelling on the right side of your abdomen [or] cancer (or cirrhosis) increases pressure in the liver, causing blood to pool in the vessels (veins). This forces fluid out of the veins into the abdomen.”
A well-known symptom of liver problems is jaundice, when your skin and eyes develop a yellow tint because the liver is unable to process a yellow substance called bilirubin. However, not everyone who develops liver cancer will see this symptom right away.
These digestive problems associated with liver cancer are due to the main role of the large organ, which is to produce bile, break down fat into energy and filter toxins. These are all key digestive processes, so loss of appetite or rapid weight loss are also associated with the development of cancer.
Fortunately, liver cancer is relatively rare in the UK, accounting for around 2% of all cancer diagnoses. Of these two percent, the majority of patients with liver cancer will see the disease spread to the liver, rather than starting there.
The NHS says the causes of primary liver cancer are unclear, but certain risk factors could make you more vulnerable, such as:
- Be over 60
- Hepatitis, liver cirrhosis, gallstones, diabetes and HIV
- be a man
- Have a close relative who has had primary liver cancer
If you have these symptoms you should tell your doctor, although they are unlikely to be due to cancer, they could be a sign of other infections and potential illnesses.