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Sunday, May 4, 2008

Dealing with the symptoms of secondary liver cancer

Treating the secondary cancer in the liver with any of the treatments in the previous section can help to ease any symptoms you may have. If it is not possible to use these treatments, or if they are not effective, there are several ways of easing troublesome symptoms. This symptom control treatment is known as palliative therapy or supportive care.


Many people with liver cancer find that they feel tired.

Loss of appetite

Some people may lose their interest in food. Steroids prescribed by your doctor may increase your appetite.

Feeling sick (nausea)

Liver cancer can cause nausea by changing the chemical balance in the blood. Nausea can often be effectively relieved by anti-sickness tablets (anti-emetics). There are several different types of anti-emetics available and your doctor will find the one that suits you best. Steroids are often used, as these can help to relieve sickness and make you feel more energetic, as well as improving your appetite.


Secondary cancer of the liver can make the liver enlarge. The enlarged liver stretches the capsule that surrounds it, which causes pain.

Chemotherapy to shrink the enlarged liver will relieve the pain, but there are also several effective types of painkillers available that your doctor can prescribe.

Some strong painkillers can cause constipation, so it is important to try to have a diet high in fibre and drink plenty of fluids. Your doctor can prescribe a laxative with your painkillers to prevent constipation.

You can read Cancerbackup's section on controlling cancer pain for more information on painkilling drugs and other ways of relieving pain.

Steroids can also help to shrink the enlarged liver. They are usually given as a course of treatment lasting weeks or months.

Radiotherapy may also be used to relieve your pain. This treatment may cause side effects, depending on the strength of the radiotherapy dose and the length of your treatment.


Ascites is the name given to a build-up of fluid in the abdomen, which can make you feel bloated and reduce your appetite. It can make you feel breathless and uncomfortable, as the swelling can prevent your lungs from fully expanding as you breathe.

Ascites can sometimes be reduced by taking water tablets (also called diuretics) which your doctor can prescribe. These are drugs that encourage the body to get rid of excess fluid as urine, rather than allowing it to collect in the body.

Ascites can also be relieved by inserting a small tube into the abdomen to drain off the excess fluid. This is done in hospital, with a local anaesthetic, and can be repeated as necessary. Sometimes this procedure can be done at home by your doctor.


Sometimes the bile duct, the tube that drains bile out of the liver and into the intestine, can become blocked by the cancer. If this happens the bile builds up in the liver and flows back into the blood. It makes the skin turn yellow and feel itchy. This is called jaundice. The itching may sometimes be relieved by antihistamine tablets or other drugs, which your doctor can prescribe.

Occasionally the jaundice itself can be relieved, depending on where the blockage has occurred. This is done by inserting a narrow tube (stent) into the bile duct to keep it open and allow the bile to flow normally into the small intestine.

Extremes in body temperature

As the liver is the major heat-producing organ of the body, people with liver cancer sometimes find that they have changes in body temperature (either feeling too hot and sweating, or feeling cold and shivering). It is helpful to speak to your doctor if you have these changes, as there may be medicines which can help.


Hiccups may occur if the liver is pressing on the nerve that leads to the diaphragm (the muscle layer separating the chest from the abdomen). Medicines are available that can sometimes reduce or stop hiccups.


If this is a problem, try to avoid soaps which dry the skin and may increase itching. You may find moisturising lotions helpful. Some medicines can also help to relieve itching. Your doctor can prescribe these for you.

via: http://www.cancerbackup.org.uk

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