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Liver Cancer Awareness | 4Cs Blog 20th Oct

Published on 20 October 2023 10:07 AM

October is Liver Cancer Awareness Month

In the UK, there are around 6,200 new cases of liver cancer each year - or 17 a day - and sadly this number is on the rise.

Liver cancer rates have increased by more than two-and-a-half times since the 1990s, and by almost half over the last decade, according to Cancer Research UK. These shocking statistics are most likely due to lifestyle factors such as obesity and poor diet, which contribute to the development of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease - when fat builds up in the liver and causes damage.


Although liver cancer can happen at any age, it is more common in older people. Most people diagnosed are over the age of 60, with the highest rates in 85-89 year olds. Liver cancer is more common in men than women, and around 1,200 cases of liver cancer each year in England are linked to deprivation according to Cancer Research UK.

Most cases of liver cancer are linked with damage and scarring of the liver, known as cirrhosis, which stops the liver from working properly. There are multiple causes of cirrhosis, including; fatty liver disease, long-term hepatitis B or C viral infection, and excessive alcohol consumption over several years.

You are more likely to develop liver cancer if you have a parent or sibling with liver cancer; or if a particular medical condition, such as type 2 diabetes, HIV or AIDS, metabolic syndrome, liver flukes (a parasite in the liver), gallstones or having had your gallbladder removed.

The Importance of the Liver

The liver is the largest organ in the body after your skin and is approximately the size of a football. It is located just under your ribcage, on the right side of your abdomen. The liver plays many critical roles in the body, including processing food into energy, filtering blood, breaking down poisonous substances like alcohol and drugs, maintaining healthy blood sugar levels and regulating metabolism.

The Link Between Liver Cancer and Lifestyle

More than one in five of us are at risk of developing liver disease, which can lead to cancer. But almost half of liver cancer cases are preventable, and there are lots of ways you can be proactive in lowering your risk by making healthy choices in your life.

Being overweight or obese heightens your risk of liver cancer. This may be because diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease are more common in overweight people. 23% of liver cancer cases in the UK are caused by being overweight or obese, according to Cancer Research UK. You can lose weight by eating a healthy, balanced diet and getting regular exercise. Read here about body weight and cancer, and get tips on losing weight and being healthier.

People who smoke tobacco have a much higher risk of many cancers - including liver cancer - than non-smokers. 20 out of 100 cases of liver cancer in the UK are caused by smoking, according to Cancer Research UK. Your risk of liver cancer is amplified further if you smoke and drink a lot of alcohol. The best thing you can do for your health and to reduce your overall cancer risk is to cut back on cigarettes or quit smoking for good. Read about smoking and cancer, and how to give up smoking.

Long-term or heavy alcohol consumption can elevate your risk of liver cancer. Regular, heavy alcohol use can lead to inflammation and scarring (cirrhosis) and directly damage the DNA inside liver cells. To lower your risk, limit your alcohol intake and avoid drinking more than 14 units a week. Read more about alcohol and cancer.

The British Liver Trust

The British Liver Trust have a free online screener, to find out if you are at risk of liver disease which only takes a few minutes and could save your life. Discovering you are at risk early on means that you can effectively treat and change your lifestyle before serious problems occur. It also means that you can ask your GP for further tests if needed.


The Signs and Symptoms

Liver cancer may not always cause any symptoms, or these symptoms may be vague and not appear until the cancer is at a later stage. Liver cancer can also be picked up by chance when performing other tests, like scans or blood tests.

Here are the symptoms of liver cancer:

Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes).

Pain or discomfort in your belly (upper abdomen) or right shoulder.

Feeling sick and vomiting.

Loss of appetite or feeling very full after eating small amounts.

A swelling or hard lump in your belly or the right side of your abdomen.

Weight loss.

Itchy skin.

Ongoing fatigue, weakness or feeling generally unwell.

Unexplained weight loss.

Swelling of ankles caused by fluid build-up.

Vomiting blood.

Passing black, tarry poo with a very unpleasant smell.

Aching, high temperature, unexplained fever.

Speak with your GP if you notice any of these symptoms. While they are likely to be the result of a common condition or infection, it is best to be safe and get them checked. If you already have a liver condition like cirrhosis, tell your doctor if you have any new or worsening symptoms. Urgent further tests will be required if your doctor suspects it could be liver cancer. These tests include; blood tests (to assess how well your liver is working), ultrasound scans (to show if the liver is scarred and possibly the site and extent of a tumour), MRI or CT scan (to show the extent of the cancer and determine whether it is primary or secondary).

If you are worried about liver cancer and would like to talk to someone, we are here to listen. You can:

That's it this week, please don't forget that we work with trained facilitators to provide Cancer Support Groups in locations across Cornwall. Give us a call on 01872 266383 to find out more.