Signs and Symptoms of Liver Cancer

Having one or more of the symptoms below does not mean you have liver cancer. In fact, many of these symptoms are more likely to be caused by other conditions. Still, if you have any of these symptoms, it’s important to have them checked by a doctor so that the cause can be found and treated, if needed. Signs and symptoms of liver cancer often do not show up until the later stages of the disease, but sometimes they may show up sooner. If you go to your doctor when you first notice symptoms, your cancer might be diagnosed earlier, when treatment is most likely to be helpful. Some of the most common symptoms of liver cancer are:

  • Weight loss (without trying)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Feeling very full after a small meal
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • An enlarged liver, felt as fullness under the ribs on the right side
  • An enlarged spleen, felt as fullness under the ribs on the left side
  • Pain in the abdomen (belly) or near the right shoulder blade
  • Swelling or fluid build-up in the abdomen (belly)
  • Itching
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)

Other symptoms can include fever, enlarged veins on the belly that can be seen through the skin, and abnormal bruising or bleeding.

People who have chronic hepatitis or cirrhosis might feel worse than usual or might just have changes in lab test results, such as liver function tests or alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) levels.

Some liver tumors make hormones that act on organs other than the liver. These hormones may cause:

  • High blood calcium levels (hypercalcemia), which can cause nausea, confusion, constipation, weakness, or muscle problems
  • Low blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia), which can cause fatigue or fainting
  • Breast enlargement (gynecomastia) and/or shrinkage of the testicles in men
  • High counts of red blood cells (erythrocytosis) which can cause someone to look red and flushed
  • High cholesterol levels

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Abou-Alfa GK, Jarnigan W, Dika IE, D’Angelica M, Lowery M, Brown K, et al. Ch. 77 - Liver and Bile Duct Cancer. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff’s Clinical Oncology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier; 2020:1314–1341.

National Cancer Institute. Physician Data Query (PDQ). Adult Primary Liver Cancer Symptoms, Tests, Prognosis, and Stages – Patient Version. Accessed at https://www.cancer.gov/types/liver/patient/about-adult-liver-cancer-pdq on March 12, 2019.

Schwartz JM, Carithers RL, and Sirlin CB. Clinical features and diagnosis of hepatocellular carcinoma. UpToDate website. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/clinical-features-and-diagnosis-of-hepatocellular-carcinoma. Updated November 2, 2018. Accessed March 12, 2019.

Last Medical Review: April 1, 2019 Last Revised: April 1, 2019

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