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What are the symptoms?

Secondary cancer in the liver often has no symptoms if the tumours are small. As the cancer grows, symptoms can include:

  • weakness and tiredness (fatigue)
  • pain in the upper right side of the abdomen or right shoulder
  • severe pain in the abdomen
  • 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 (ascites)
  • fever.

Which health professionals will I see?

If you have not yet been diagnosed with cancer, 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 secondary cancer in the liver, you are likely to see a doctor who specialises in the original cancer (e.g. a
colorectal surgeon or a medical oncologist for bowel cancer).

The specialist will arrange further tests and consider treatment options. Often the treatment options 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.

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

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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,