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What Does Pain From Liver Cancer Feel Like?

Patients suffering from liver cancer usually complain of a throbbing or stabbing sensation in the upper right side of the abdomen or the back of the shoulder.

Patients suffering from liver cancer usually complain of a throbbing or stabbing sensation in the upper right side of the abdomen or the back of the shoulder. There may or may not be a swelling that doesn’t subside. The pain may be severe; it is graded 7/10 in intensity. Some patients may not have any symptoms in the early stages of liver cancer. Pain and other symptoms only develop in the later stages. The other common signs and symptoms may include

  • A lump on the right side just below the rib cage or a heavy feeling in the upper abdomen
  • An enlarged spleen, which feels as fullness under the ribs on the left side
  • Swollen abdomen (bloating)
  • Loss of appetite and feelings of fullness after eating a small meal
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Unusual weakness or fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Yellow skin and eyes (jaundice), pale stools, and dark urine
  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • Unexplained fever
  • Loss of sexual drive
  • Generalized skin irritation and itching
  • Patients may develop hepatic encephalopathy: When the liver doesn’t work properly, and waste products buildup in the blood. These waste products (mostly ammonia) may cause the brain to swell. The symptoms may include confusion, slurred speech and personality/mood changes.
  • Patients may also develop portal hypertension: This is an increase in blood pressure in the hepatic portal vein (the main vein that brings blood to the liver). It can develop when a liver tumor blocks the flow of blood in the vein. It can also develop with liver scarring (cirrhosis). The increase in pressure causes large veins (called varices) to develop around the stomach and esophagus to get around the blockage. Varices are very fragile and can bleed easily.

What are the possible risk factors for developing liver cancer?

Liver cancer or hepatic cancer is a condition or disease that happens when normal cells in the liver turn cancerous due to a mutation in deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). The cancerous cells then become destructive to adjacent healthy tissues and can spread to other areas of the liver and organs outside the liver. The possible risk factors may include

  • Usually common in men, but women are also prone to liver cancer.
  • In the United States, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders have the highest rates of liver cancer.
  • Long-standing viral hepatitis (Hepatitis B or C) is one of the common risks.
  • Liver cirrhosis, a disease in which liver cells become damaged and are replaced by scar tissue
  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, a common condition in obese people.Primary biliary cirrhosis, a condition where the bile ducts in the liver are damaged and even destroyed, which can lead to cirrhosis
  • Inherited liver diseases, such as hemochromatosis
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Tobacco use
  • Obesity
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Aflatoxins, which are cancer-causing substances and are made by a fungus present in peanuts, wheat, soybeans, groundnuts, corn and rice.
  • Anabolic steroids, which are male hormones used by some athletes to increase their strength and muscle mass. This may sometimes cause liver cancer.

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What are the possible treatment options for liver cancer?

The choice of treatment will depend on the extent and location of the cancer, the health of the liver, and the overall health of the patient.

Resection: 

  • Resection is the surgical removal of cancer and some surrounding normal tissue. This is often the treatment of choice in patients without cirrhosis.
  • Although resection is potentially curative, an estimated 70 percent of patients will develop a cancer recurrence during the first five years after treatment.
  • Furthermore, resection is only possible when the remaining part of the liver is healthy enough to function on its own after surgery.

For many patients with cirrhosis or other liver diseases, resection will not be the case, and other treatment options will need to be considered.

  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is a medication that is administered intravenously or orally to kill cancer cells.
  • Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy uses targeted radioactive waves to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors.
  • Radioembolization: A specialized interventional radiologist may use intra-arterial yttrium-90 radioembolization (commonly called Y-90) to radiate a liver tumor.
  • Chemoembolization: Anticancer drugs are administered directly into a tumor through its feeding blood supply, which allows for a higher concentration of the drug to be in contact with the tumor for a longer time.
  • Ablation therapies: Ablation is a type of treatment that destroys tumors without removing them. These techniques may be used for patients when surgery is not a good option because of poor health or reduced liver function. Often, ablation can be done without surgery by inserting a needle or probe into the tumor through the skin.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 33,000 people are diagnosed with liver cancer and 27,000 die from liver cancer in the United States each year. Liver cancer rates among Americans have been growing steadily over the years, despite overall death rates from all other cancers are declining. Survival rates for people with liver cancer vary depending on how severe their diagnosis is and what stage their cancer is in. However, according to the American Cancer Society, the five-year survival rate of liver cancer is approximately 30 percent.

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Medically Reviewed on 4/23/2021

References

WebMD. Understanding Liver Cancer — the Basics. https://www.webmd.com/cancer/understanding-liver-cancer-basic-information

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