Liver Cancer: Symptoms and Signs

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 01/2021

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about body changes and other things that can signal a problem that may need medical care. To see other pages in this guide, use the menu.

People with liver cancer may experience no symptoms, particularly when the tumor is detected early as part of a screening program. A symptom is something that only the person experiencing it can identify and describe, such as fatigue, nausea, or pain. A sign is something that other people can identify and measure, such as a fever, rash, or an elevated pulse. Together, signs and symptoms can help describe a medical problem. When symptoms or signs of liver cancer do occur, they may include those described below. Or, the cause of a symptom or sign may be a medical condition that is not cancer.

  • Pain, especially at the top right of the abdominal area, near the right shoulder blade, or in the back

  • Unexplained weight loss

  • A hard lump under the ribs on the right side of the body, which could be the tumor or a sign that the liver has gotten bigger

  • Weakness or fatigue

  • Yellowing of the skin or eyes, called jaundice

When HCC is diagnosed, some people will already know that they have cirrhosis and will be receiving care from a doctor. Some symptoms experienced by people with HCC may be caused by cirrhosis rather than the tumor. These symptoms include abdominal swelling from fluid accumulation, called ascites, and needing more water tablets, called diuretics, to control the fluid accumulation. Hepatic encephalopathy (mental confusion) and bleeding from the esophagus or stomach, or any worsening of the condition, may also indicate cancer.

If you are concerned about any changes you experience, please talk with your doctor. Your doctor will ask how long and how often you’ve been experiencing the symptom(s), in addition to other questions. This is to help figure out the cause of the problem, called a diagnosis.

If liver cancer is diagnosed, relieving symptoms remains an important part of cancer care and treatment. This may also be called "palliative care" or "supportive care." It is often started soon after diagnosis and continued throughout treatment. Be sure to talk with your health care team about the symptoms you experience, including any new symptoms or a change in symptoms.

The next section in this guide is Diagnosis. It explains what tests may be needed to learn more about the cause of the symptoms. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.