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What are the symptoms?

Liver cancer often doesn’t cause any symptoms in the early stages, but symptoms may appear as the cancer grows or spreads. Symptoms of HCC can include:

  • weakness and tiredness (fatigue)
  • pain in the abdomen or right shoulder
  • appetite loss and feeling sick (nausea)
  • unexplained weight loss
  • yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
  • dark urine and pale faeces (poo)
  • itchy skin
  • a swollen abdomen caused by fluid build-up (ascites)
  • fever.

These symptoms can also be caused by other conditions, but see your doctor if you are concerned.

Which health professionals will I see?

Your general practitioner (GP) will arrange the first tests to assess your symptoms. If these tests do not rule out cancer, you will usually be referred to a specialist. For primary liver cancer, this is likely to be a liver specialist such as a hepatologist, gastroenterologist or hepatobiliary surgeon. The specialist will arrange further tests.

If liver cancer is diagnosed, the specialist will consider treatment options. Often these will be discussed with other health professionals at what is known as a multidisciplinary team (MDT) meeting. During and after treatment, you will see a range of health professionals who specialise in different aspects of your care.
Primary liver cancer is challenging to treat and it is recommended that you are treated in a specialist treatment centre.

hepatobiliary surgeonoperates on the liver, gall bladder, pancreas and surrounding organs
gastroenterologist, hepatologistdiagnose and treat disorders of the digestive system, including liver cancer; a hepatologist is a gastroenterologist specialising in liver diseases
interventional radiologistanalyses x-rays and scans, may also perform a biopsy under ultrasound or CT and deliver some treatments
medical oncologisttreats cancer with drug therapies such as chemotherapy, targeted therapy and immunotherapy (systemic treatment)
radiation oncologisttreats cancer by prescribing and overseeing a course of radiation therapy
cancer care coordinatorcoordinates your care, liaises with other members of the MDT and supports you and your family throughout treatment; care may also be coordinated by a clinical nurse consultant (CNC) or clinical nurse specialist (CNS)
nurseadministers drugs and provides care, information and support; a hepatology nurse specialises in liver cancer
physiotherapist, occupational therapistassist with physical and practical problems, including restoring movement and mobility after treatment, and recommending aids and equipment
social workerlinks you to support services and helps you with emotional, practical and financial issues
psychiatrist, counsellor, psychologisthelp you manage your emotional response to diagnosis and treatment
dietitianrecommends an eating plan to follow while you are in treatment and recovery
palliative care teamworks closely with your GP and cancer team to help control symptoms and maintain quality of life; includes palliative care specialists and nurses, as well as other health care professionals

Featured resources

Liver Cancer - Your guide to best cancer care

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Understanding Cancer in the Liver

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This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed June 2020 by the following expert content reviewers: Dr David Yeo, Hepatobiliary/Transplant Surgeon, Royal Prince Alfred, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse Cancer Centre and St George Hospitals, NSW; Dr Lorraine Chantrill, Head of Department Medical Oncology, Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District, NSW; Michael Coulson, Consumer; Dr Sam Davis, Interventional Radiologist, Staff Specialist, Royal Brisbane and Women‘s Hospital, QLD; Prof Chris Karapetis, Network Clinical Director (Cancer Services), Southern Adelaide Local Health Network, Head, Department of Medical Oncology, Flinders Medical Centre and Flinders University, SA; Dr Howard Liu, Radiation Oncologist, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Lina Sharma, Consumer; Dr Graham Starkey, Hepato-Biliary and General Surgeon, Austin Hospital, VIC; Catherine Trevaskis, Gastrointestinal Cancer Specialist Nurse, Canberra Hospital and Health Services, ACT; Dr Michael Wallace, Western Australia Liver Transplant Service, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital,