- People at risk of developing liver cancer should have themselves regularly checked by their doctor because liver cancer symptoms typically show during its later stages.
- Having had hepatitis infections in the past and not undergoing screening, especially for those born between 1945 and 1965, can affect your risks for liver cancer.
- Heavy alcohol use can also raise your risk because of the damage it can do to liver cells.
Liver cancer cases in Canada are fairly rare with just about 2,000 new cases occurring each year. Yet, it’s one of the fastest rising cancer types in the country. Not coincidentally, many of the leading causes of liver cancer, such as heavy alcohol use, hepatitis infections, obesity, and smoking, are also on the rise.
Like any other type of cancer, liver cancer symptoms don’t often show up until its advanced stages. So if you think you’re at risk, go for regular screenings and get yourself checked by a GP especially if you experience or have any of the symptoms listed below.
1. A history of the hepatitis C virus.
People with hepatitis C can develop liver cancer 10 years after diagnosis, says Dr. Ghassan Abou-Alfa, medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Anyone born between 1945 and 1965 is encouraged by the US Center for Disease Control to get tested for the virus, so they can start liver cancer preventive treatments.
While the Canadian Liver Foundation has called for a similar screening technique, the current approach used for now is focused on groups that are at higher risks.
2. You haven’t been vaccinated for hepatitis B.
Although it’s unrelated to hepatitis C, those who haven’t gotten the hepa B vaccine could be at risk for liver cancer, says Dr. Abou-Alfa. He recommends constant monitoring by a doctor, and getting an ultrasound at least once a year for cancer screening if you have the virus.
3. You drink too much.
According to the American Cancer Society, regular and prolonged alcohol misuse over many years can impair the ability of new liver cells to regenerate, resulting in serious and permanent damage to your liver, leading to liver cancer.
4. You have a very fatty liver.
“The new driver [of liver cancer] is non-alcoholic fatty liver disease,” Dr. Abou-Alfa says. Although liver cancer is so rare, so many people in the US are alarmingly obese. Talk to your doctor because the more risk factors you have, the more concerned you should be.
5. You have unusual abdominal pain.
Pain at the top right side of your tummy or in your right shoulder is often experienced by people with liver cancer, says Dr. Brawley. However, pain in that area may also be due to other health conditions including hepatitis, gallbladder, or pancreas issues.
6. You’ve lost a noticeable amount of weight without trying.
“Weight loss and loss of appetite is a common symptom of people with a lot of different diseases, including a number of different cancers and viruses,” Dr. Brawley explains. While a drop in weight may not always mean cancer, it’s still good to ask your doctor if your symptoms are related to liver cancer.
7. You feel full sooner than normal.
Also known as early satiety, Dr. Abou-Alfa says if you consistently feel this even after eating less than usual, get checked by your doctor. This could be caused by having excess fluid in the belly.
8. You have yellow eyes.
Yellowing of your eyes could indicate jaundice, a condition where your liver can’t get rid of the chemical bilirubin from building up in the body. Jaundice accompanied by itching, according to Dr. Abou-Alfa, could be a sign of liver cancer as well as pancreatic cancer.