Could It Be a Sign of Liver Cancer?

May 7th 2016

Liver cancer is one of the most common cancers worldwide. Treatment options for the cancer are usually determined by the stage at which the disorder is discovered. To ensure the widest range of potential treatments, and therefore the best possible prognosis, it is important to know the signs and symptoms of liver cancer. Primary liver cancer begins in the liver, while secondary, or metastatic, liver cancer begins elsewhere and migrates to the liver. Each has its own set of symptoms, so it is important to be alert to both.

Risk Factors

Liver cancer occurs most often among people who have pre-existing cancers, certain types of hepatitis or cirrhosis of the liver. People with any of these conditions should be especially suspicious of the appearance of any of the signs of liver cancer, as such symptoms are more likely to signal a serious problem than they might in a healthy person.

Skin Signs

Jaundice is a common sign of both primary and secondary liver cancer. One of the liver's main functions is to break down and recycle old red blood cells. During this process, a yellowish chemical called bilirubin is released. A normally functioning liver is able to metabolize bilirubin, but a liver that has been damaged by cancer often cannot, causing bilirubin to build up in the bloodstream until the patient's skin and eyes have been stained yellow.

Systemic Signs

The liver is central to many of the body's functions, so any serious problem there is likely to have effects all over the body. Sudden weight loss, nausea, and unexplained pain in the abdomen or left shoulder blade are sometimes signs of trouble with the liver. The liver or spleen may swell, as may the abdomen as fluid builds up in the abdominal cavity. Often, liver cancer is accompanied by fatigue and loss of appetite.

Blood Signs

Liver cancer often negatively affects the way the body's hormones are regulated. A cancerous liver may cause estrogen levels to rise, which may trigger enlarged breasts or shrunken testicles in men. Liver cancer's interference with insulin levels may cause blood sugar to drop dangerously low. Other hormonal effects may show up as abnormally high blood calcium levels, high cholesterol and even itching all over the body. Liver cancer may also cause a secondary condition known as erythrocytosis, which is the result of an overproduction of red blood cells and makes the skin look hot and flushed.

A healthy liver is central to maintaining a healthy body. The liver is intimately connected to virtually everything the body does, so trouble there, in the form of cancer, has the potential to show symptoms all over the body. While some of the signs of liver cancer, such as high cholesterol, certainly can have other causes, it is never wise to take any of liver cancer's signs lightly, as early detection is the most important single factor for long-term survival.

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