Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is a type of liver cancer that begins in the hepatocytes, the main type of liver cell.
While it’s considered a rare disease in the United States, HCC is responsible for around
Symptoms often don’t appear until the later stages of the cancer.
Here are some common symptoms of HCC, along with information on progression of the disease, palliative care options, and outlook.
Most of the time, people with liver cancer don’t notice symptoms until the disease progresses into later stages. However, it’s possible for signs to show up sooner. Here are some of the most common symptoms of HCC.
Nausea or feelings of queasiness is a common symptom of HCC. A number of other conditions can also cause nausea, though, so it’s difficult to tell if it’s your liver causing trouble from this symptom alone.
Loss of appetite
Another early symptom of HCC is loss of appetite. You may feel significantly less hungry than usual and have little to no interest in meals.
Unintentional weight loss
Liver cancer can also cause you to lose weight, even if you’re not actively trying to change the number on the scale.
Fatigue can develop into extreme sleepiness as HCC progresses.
Jaundice is the yellowing of the skin, eyes, or mucus membranes. Jaundice occurs as a result of an overabundance of bilirubin, a substance created when dead red blood cells break down in the liver.
Swelling in the abdomen and legs
High pressure in the liver veins can cause ascites, or an accumulation of fluid in the belly. This can lead to uncomfortable swelling in the abdomen and legs.
Ascites is more common in people who have both HCC and liver cirrhosis.
Easy bruising or bleeding
HCC can cause you to bleed or bruise more easily than usual. Even a small cut may lead to severe bleeding.
Pain in the right upper quadrant of the abdomen is one of the most frequently reported symptoms in people with HCC. If the cancer spreads to your bones, you may also experience severe bone pain, as well.
The early stages of HCC typically progress slowly. If the cancer is discovered early enough, it can sometimes be cured.
However, cirrhosis, which is common in most people with HCC, can complicate treatment.
You may need to work with an interdisciplinary medical team that includes hepatologists, radiologists, cancer surgeons, transplant surgeons, and oncologists to determine the best way to slow down the progression of your disease.
If the cancer hasn’t spread, doctors may be able to remove it through surgery, which may include removing tumors from the liver.
HCC may recur even after removal, though, so it’s important to treat the liver disease that may be leading to the cancer, as well.
A liver transplant is sometimes the recommended treatment for people with tumors that can’t be surgically removed.
Nonsurgical treatments are the most common way to ease symptoms and slow down disease progression in people with HCC.
Your doctor may recommend ablation (destruction) of liver tumors.
Ablation can be done via:
- an ethanol injection
- burning the cancer cells
- cutting off the blood supply to the tumor by injecting particles or medications into it
Other treatment options for liver cancer include:
- organ transplant
- radiation therapy
- targeted drug therapy
Palliative care can be used to ease symptoms in people with intermediate and advanced HCC to improve their quality of life.
Given the high rates of complications from other diseases among people with HCC, you may need to work with an interdisciplinary team of medical specialists to determine the best course of action.
Palliative care is focused on keeping people with serious diseases comfortable, not curing their conditions.
Here are some palliative care options for people with HCC:
- pain medications
- symptom management for concerns, such as anxiety, nausea, and fatigue
- advance care planning
- psychosocial support, such as art therapy, religious/spiritual activities, and support groups
- care coordination
Your doctor can advise on specific palliative care options for you.
The median survival rate is typically between
The suboptimal survival rate is often attributed to the fact that HCC is usually not diagnosed until it has reached an advanced stage.
It may also be due to long wait times for a liver transplant and poor uptake of cancer screening programs.
As researchers continue to learn more about this cancer, new screening methods and treatments are likely to become available and improve the outlook for people with HCC.
HCC is a type of cancer that tends to affect people with a history of chronic liver disease. Symptoms of HCC include:
- weight loss
- swelling in the abdomen
However, signs of the disease often don’t become noticeable until the disease has reached an advanced state.
If you think you may have HCC, talk to your doctor right away. They can order tests to make a diagnosis. It may be possible to slow down the progression of HCC through various treatments.