Managing the Symptoms of Secondary Liver Cancer


Secondary liver cancer is when cancer cells originating in another part of the body spread to the liver. Most bowel cancer spreads to the liver due to the blood supply from the bowel connecting through the portal vein, supplying the liver with nutrients acquired from the digestive system. 


Secondary liver cancer may have no symptoms at the initial period when the size of the tumour is small. As the cancer cells grow or increase in number, symptoms may begin to appear, such as jaundice, severe pain in the upper right region of the abdomen, loss of appetite, unexpected weight loss, dark coloured urine, fever, and itchy skin. 


One of the functions of the liver is the synthesis of bilirubin. Bilirubin is the yellow pigment produced by the liver during the breakdown of red blood cells in the body. Bilirubin is excreted out of the body through the faeces. Secondary liver cancer tends to cause increased bilirubin production, or the cancer cells may block the bile duct. This ultimately leads to the build-up of bilirubin levels in the blood - a condition called jaundice. This manifests as a yellowish discolouration of the skin, nails, and whites of the eyes, along with pale faeces and dark urine. To manage jaundice, a metal or plastic stent is used to unblock the bile ducts, and the symptoms can be relieved within 2 to 3 weeks. However, using stents is not recommended if the patient is in advanced-stage secondary liver cancer. 

Itching caused by jaundice may worsen during the night time, which can be managed by applying enough moisturiser to keep the skin hydrated. Avoid direct sunlight, hot baths, and alcohol consumption - these can worsen itching.

Loss of Appetite and Unexpected Weight Loss

The enlarged liver can push on the stomach, causing a feeling of fullness. Cancerous liver cells may also possess impaired metabolism and therefore cannot perform their relevant chemical reactions properly. This can result in the improper breakdown of food particles, ultimately leading to indigestion. Inflammation of the liver and liver cancer may lead to a loss of appetite and unexpected weight loss. To manage these symptoms, try to eat enough food. 

Tips to improve appetite:

  • Try to eat small portions of food at regular intervals instead of having larger meals at a time.
  • Keep yourself hydrated in between each meal.
  • Try to consume food that will boost your energy levels.
  • Try to eat the foods which you like most.


Severe pain, especially in the upper right region of the abdomen, associated with liver cancer, can be managed by using pain killers with mild analgesic activity, such as paracetamol and codeine. The surgical removal (or size reduction) of tumours may also relieve the pain caused by it. Sometimes, local anaesthetics can also be used to numb the painful area.


Chronic liver diseases may affect brain/cognitive function by a build-up of toxic substances in the blood, which can cause confusion or disorientation and even induce coma in severe cases. This is known as hepatic encephalopathy. Read this link for more information about this condition.


Cancer can affect your life in many ways, and a patient may experience emotions such as fear, anxiety, frustration, anger, and depression. To support you and your family, there are various sources of information available about cancer, treatment, and symptom management. You can also find support groups and programs to provide you with moral and financial support to overcome cancer. 

This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Pavithra Saravanan

Pharmacist, MA Pharmacy, The Tamil Nadu Dr. M.G.R. Medical University, India
Pavithra Saravanan is a pharmaceutical professional and member in TOPRA. She completed her masters in pharmacy in Pharmaceutics department from The Tamilnadu Dr.M.G.R.Medical University, India. Pavithra has 2 years experience in Drug Regulatory Affairs, is equipped with knowledge in Clinical Data Management and Drug Safety and is currently working in the United Kingdom.

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