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Liver and Bile Duct Cancer Signs, Symptoms and Types

Liver and bile duct cancer can be very hard to treat in more advanced stages because many patients don’t notice signs or symptoms.

If you’re at risk or have symptoms, talk to your doctor. At Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center, we have a team of experts dedicated to liver and bile duct cancer research, diagnosis and treatment. Make an appointment with one of our knowledgeable doctors today.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Liver and Bile Duct Cancers?

Liver and bile duct cancers are on the rise in the United States. More people than ever before are being diagnosed with cirrhosis due to chronic hepatitis C and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Learn about liver and bile duct cancer causes, risk factors and prevention and how to lower your risk.

Liver and bile duct cancer symptoms often do not appear in early stages of the disease. It’s also impossible to feel small tumors because the liver and bile ducts are shielded by the ribs. When signs and symptoms do appear, they may include:

  • Upper abdominal pain or pain on the right side below the ribs
  • Back pain
  • Pain near the right shoulder blade
  • Swelling in the abdomen or fluid buildup
  • Swollen veins visible under the abdominal skin
  • Enlarged liver and/or spleen
  • Yellowing of skin and eyes (jaundice)
  • White, chalky stools
  • Dark urine
  • Fever
  • Night sweats
  • Itching
  • Weight loss
  • Feeling full after eating a small meal
  • Low blood sugar levels
  • Nausea and vomiting

Symptoms of end-stage liver disease may include:

  • Easy bleeding or bruising
  • Intense itching
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Problems with concentration and memory
  • Recurrent jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes)
  • Swelling in your abdomen and legs

If you experience these symptoms, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have liver cancer. However, if you have symptoms that worry you, be sure to talk with your doctor.

Types of Liver and Bile Duct Cancer

  • Primary liver cancer: Also called hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) or hepatoma, primary liver cancer is the most common type of liver tumor - about 75% of all diagnoses. Primary liver cancer starts in liver cells called hepatocellular cells. Most primary liver cancer is from a hepatitis B or C infection or cirrhosis of the liver.
  • Fibrolamellar Hepatocellular Carcinoma: This rare subtype of primary liver cancer can be more responsive to treatment than other types of liver cancer.
  • Intrahepatic bile duct cancer: Occurs in the small, tube-like bile ducts in the liver that carry bile to the gallbladder. Intrahepatic bile duct cancer makes up about 10% of liver cancers.
  • Extrahepatic bile duct cancer: Starts in the bile ducts outside the liver. This type of bile duct cancer is the most common and tends to be the most treatable.
  • Angiosarcoma: This rare form of liver cancer starts in the liver’s blood vessels. It’s fast-growing and usually diagnosed at an advanced stage.
  • Hepatoblastoma: A very rare cancer almost always found in children younger than 4 years old.
  • Secondary liver cancer (liver metastasis): Develops when cancer from another part of the body spreads to the liver, usually from colon or colorectal cancer.

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