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What are the symptoms?

Liver cancer often doesn’t cause any symptoms in the early stages, and cancer that is diagnosed and treated before symptoms appear often has very good outcomes.

As the cancer grows or spreads, it may cause symptoms, such as:

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

Which health professionals will I see?

Your general practitioner (GP) will arrange the first tests to assess your symptoms or to follow up abnormal results from ultrasound or blood tests that have been done to check for liver cancer. If these tests show that you have liver cancer – or there is concern about possible cancer – you will usually be referred to a specialist. This is likely to be a hepatobiliary surgeon, gastroenterologist or hepatologist. 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 if possible.

hepatobiliary surgeonoperates on the liver, gall bladder, pancreas and surrounding organs
gastroenterologistdiagnoses and treats disorders of the digestive system, including liver cancer; may treat liver cancer with drug therapies
hepatologista gastroenterologist specialising in liver disease
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)
nurse, hepatology nurseadminister drugs and provide care, information and support; a hepatology nurse specialises in liver cancer
physiotherapist, exercise physiologisthelp restore movement and mobility, and improve fitness and wellbeing
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
dietitianhelps with nutrition concerns and recommends changes to diet during 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 professionals

Featured resources

Liver Cancer - Your guide to best cancer care

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Understanding Liver Cancer

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This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed June 2022 by the following expert content reviewers: A/Prof Simone Strasser, Hepatologist, AW Morrow Gastroenterology and Liver Centre, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and The University of Sydney, NSW; A/Prof Siddhartha Baxi, Radiation Oncologist and Medical Director, GenesisCare, Gold Coast, QLD; Prof Katherine Clark, Clinical Director of Palliative Care, NSLHD Supportive and Palliative Care Network, Northern Sydney Cancer Centre, Royal North Shore Hospital, NSW; Anne Dowling, Hepatoma Clinical Nurse Consultant and Liver Transplant Coordinator, Austin Health, VIC; A/Prof Koroush Haghighi, Liver, Pancreas and Upper Gastrointestinal Surgeon, Prince of Wales and St Vincent’s Hospitals, NSW; Karen Hall, 131120 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Dr Brett Knowles, Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary and General Surgeon, Royal Melbourne Hospital, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and St Vincent’s Hospital, VIC; Lina Sharma, Consumer; David Thomas, Consumer; Clinical A/Prof Michael Wallace, Department of Hepatology and Western Australian Liver Transplant Service, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital Medical School, The University of Western Australia, WA; Prof Desmond Yip, Clinical Director, Department of Medical Oncology, The Canberra Hospital, ACT.