Liver cancer symptoms, risk factors, and FAQs

Signs and symptoms

Most people diagnosed with liver cancer develop symptoms in the later stages of the disease. Signs and symptoms of liver cancer include:

  • Feeling full after a small meal. This is caused by an enlarged liver or spleen pushing against the stomach.
  • Jaundice. Also known as yellowing of the skin or eyes.
  • Nausea/vomiting. This can also include coughing up blood.
  • Pain or swelling in the abdomen. This is caused by swelling of the spleen or liver or fluid accumulation in the abdomen.
  • Unexplained weight loss. Many people who develop liver cancer notice unplanned weight loss due to loss of appetite.

Man sampling food from spoon

Risk factors for liver cancer

Bearded man in blue shirt with hiking poles

There are several factors that might increase the chance of developing liver cancer. These risk factors include:

  • Chronic viral hepatitis. Chronic infection with the hepatitis B virus (HBV) or hepatitis C virus (HCV) is the most common risk factor for liver cancer.
  • Cirrhosis. An irreversible condition that causes damage to liver cells and creates scar tissue. Cirrhosis is a progressive disease that increases the chances of developing liver cancer.
  • Diabetes. People with diabetes have a greater risk of liver cancer than other people.
  • Excessive alcohol use. Alcohol abuse over many years can lead to irreversible liver damage linked with an increased risk of liver cancer.
  • Gender. Hepatocellular carcinoma is more common in men than in women.
  • Inherited liver diseases. Hereditary hemochromatosis and Wilson’s disease can increase the risk of developing liver cancer.
  • Race. Of all racial groups in the United States, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have the highest incidence rates of liver cancer.
  • Weight. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is common among obese people. Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, a subtype of this disease can cause cirrhosis and lead to an increased risk of liver cancer.


Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about liver cancer

No. However, there is a genetic association among people diagnosed with hereditary hemochromatosis, which is one of the risk factors for developing hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cancer).

No. Cirrhosis is an irreversible condition that causes damage to liver cells and creates scar tissue. Cirrhosis is a progressive disease that increases the chances of developing liver cancer.

When liver cancer metastasizes, it most commonly spreads to the lungs and bones. The speed of the spread depends upon the type of liver cancer the patient has. Hemangiosarcoma and angiosarcoma, for example, spread quickly, while hepatocellular carcinoma takes longer to spread.

According to the American Cancer Society, more than 42,200 new cases of primary liver cancer are diagnosed and there are an estimated 30,200 deaths from the disease each year. Primary liver cancer is more prevalent in men than women, with an 8.3% higher incidence rate and a 5.7% higher death rate compared to women. Since 1980, liver cancer incidence rates have more than tripled, and death rates have more than doubled.

In Colorado, there are an estimated 600 new cases and 420 deaths from primary liver cancer each year.

Liver cancer is much more common in countries in Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa than in the United States. In many of these countries it is the most common type of cancer. Each year more than 800,000 people are diagnosed with liver cancer around the world. Liver cancer is also the leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide, accounting for more than 700,000 deaths each year.

Yes. Although hemangiomas are benign (non-cancerous), they have similar characteristics to forms of liver cancer and therefore are sometimes misdiagnosed as such. To avoid this, your radiographic images should be read by a subspecialty radiologist.

The best way to prevent liver cancer is to reduce your exposure to known risk factors that cause it, especially contracting Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C.