Liver cancer may not cause symptoms in the early stages. When symptoms do appear, they often include abdominal pain, jaundice, or a noticeable lump on the right side of your abdomen.

Abdominal pain is the most common initial symptom of liver cancer, but up to a quarter of people are diagnosed without symptoms.

Most people who develop liver cancer already have signs of cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is permanent scarring of your liver that affects its ability to function.

If you were previously diagnosed with cirrhosis, your first sign of cancer may be a worsening of your cirrhosis symptoms, including:

Non-cirrhosis-related liver cancer may not have symptoms in the early stages. As it progresses, it may cause similar symptoms as cirrhosis-related liver cancer.

This article takes a closer look at all the symptoms of liver cancer and how the condition is typically detected and diagnosed.

Cirrhosis-related liver cancer may cause a worsening of symptoms such as:

Anywhere from 20–40% of people with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) develop paraneoplastic syndromes. These syndromes are collections of symptoms that develop due to the overproduction of hormones or other proteins by cancer cells. Symptoms can develop before typical liver cancer symptoms.

The most common signs and symptoms of paraneoplastic syndromes in people with HCC include:

It’s a good idea to talk with a doctor if you have symptoms of liver cancer that get worse or don’t improve after about 2 weeks.

Seek immediate emergency medical care if:

  • the whites of your eyes or skin turn yellow (jaundice)
  • you develop nausea and vomiting that doesn’t get better within 2 days

Only about 40.7% of people diagnosed with liver cancer in the United States from 2011–2020 had cancer still contained to their liver at the time of their diagnosis. About 18.4% of people had cancer spread to distant parts of their body when they were diagnosed.

Doctors use the following tests to diagnose liver cancer:

Doctors don’t always need to perform a biopsy to confirm a diagnosis of liver cancer. They can sometimes confirm the diagnosis with the results of CT scans and MRIs. This is unique to liver cancer.

However, if imaging tests cannot confirm a diagnosis, doctors will use a biopsy.

How common is liver cancer, and who’s at risk?

More than 800,000 people are diagnosed with liver cancer each year in the United States. It’s also one of the leading causes of cancer death worldwide.

Risk factors for liver cancer include:

There’s currently no routine liver cancer test for people at normal risk, but some experts recommend screening people at high risk of liver cancer with alpha-fetoprotein blood tests and ultrasound every 6 months.

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Liver cancer may not cause symptoms in the early stages. Symptoms often don’t appear until the cancer grows large.

The most common initial symptom is abdominal pain, but it may also cause symptoms such as jaundice, a noticeable lump in the right side of your abdomen, and weight loss.

It’s important to visit your doctor if you have potential symptoms of liver cancer. Receiving an early diagnosis gives you the best chance of surviving.