Liver cancer deaths on the rise: weight loss, stomach pain, low sex drive and other symptoms

According to Cancer Research UK, if liver cancer reaches the stage where surgery is no longer an option, the sufferer may only have a matter of months left to live.
Make sure you're not ignoring important symptoms (Photo: Shutterstock)Make sure you're not ignoring important symptoms (Photo: Shutterstock)
Make sure you're not ignoring important symptoms (Photo: Shutterstock)

With liver cancer deaths on the rise in the UK, this is everything you need to know about symptoms, treatment and preventative measures.

What are the symptoms to look out for?

According to the NHS, “symptoms of liver cancer are often vague and do not appear until the cancer is at an advanced stage”.

These signs include:

- Unintentional weight loss

- Loss of appetite

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- Feeling very full after eating, even if you’ve only eaten a small amount

- Feeling unwell and vomiting

- Pain or swelling in the abdomen

- Jaundice, which is the yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes

- A pain in your abdomen or right shoulder

- A lump in the right side of your abdomen

- Itchy skin

- Pale or grey faeces

- Dark urine

- Loss of sex drive

If you’re experiencing any of these listed symptoms you should get in touch with your GP - it’s likely that there’s a more common explanation for the symptoms such as an infection, but it’s best to get it checked out by a medical professional.

The NHS advises that you should also see your GP if you’ve been previously diagnosed with a condition that is known to affect your liver, such as cirrhosis or a hepatitis C infection, and you find that your health has suddenly gotten worse.

What’s the treatment?

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Treatment for liver cancer is entirely dependant on what stage the condition is at.

Treatment options include:

- Surgical resection, which is surgery to remove a section of the liver

- Liver transplant, where the liver is replaced with a donor liver

- Microwave or radiofrequency ablation, where microwaves or radio waves are used to destroy the cancerous cells

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In the case where the cancer is too advanced for these treatments, chemotherapy can be used to slow down the spread of cancer and also relieve symptoms such as pain and discomfort.

What causes liver cancer?

While the exact cause of liver cancer is unknown, most cases are associated with damage and scarring of the liver, known as cirrhosis, according to the NHS.

Cirrhosis can be caused by a number of things, including:

- Excessive alcohol consumption over many years

- Having a long term hepatitis B or hepatitis C viral infection

- Haemochromatosis, which is an inherited disorder in which iron levels in the body build up over many years

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- Primary biliary cirrhosis, which is a long term liver disease in which the bile ducts in the liver become damaged

It is also believed that obesity and an unhealthy diet can also increase the risk of liver cancer.

Can you prevent liver cancer?

Because liver cancer is usually only detected in its advanced stages, prevention is key.

According to the NHS, you may be able to significantly reduce your chances of developing liver cancer by:

- Avoiding or cutting back on alcohol

- Eating healthily

- Exercising regularly

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- Taking steps to reduce your risk of becoming infected with hepatitis B and C

The NHS says, “Over the past few decades, rates of liver cancer in the UK have risen considerably, possibly as a result of increased levels of alcohol consumption and obesity.”