Symptoms and diagnosis of secondary liver cancer


The symptoms of secondary liver cancer can be vague at first. The main symptoms include:

  • Weight loss for no known reason
  • Swelling or pain in your tummy
  • Jaundice (yellow skin and eyes)
  • Dark-coloured urine
  • Pale-coloured stools (bowel motions)
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • High temperature (fever) or sweating
  • Tiredness(fatigue)
  • Pain in your shoulder(referred pain)

If you have any of these symptoms or others not mentioned above, do tell your cancer specialist (oncologist) or nurse specialist. But remember these symptoms can also be caused by complaints other than cancer.


Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may do the following tests:

  • Physical exam
  • Liver ultrasound
  • Blood tests
  • Liver biopsy
  • Scans such as CT, PET, MRI

Physical exam: Your doctor will examine your tummy (abdomen) carefully. He or she will check if it is enlarged, hard, tender to touch, lumpy or if any swelling is present.

Liver ultrasound: An ultrasound uses sound waves to build up a picture of the tissues inside your liver and nearby organs. It is like the type of scan used on pregnant women. First you lie on your back and a gel is spread over the area to be scanned.
A probe that makes sound waves is then used to take the scan. The sound waves are changed into a picture by a computer and can show up any abnormal tissues. The scan does not hurt and only takes a few minutes. Your doctor or nurse will let you know if you can eat or drink beforehand.

Blood tests: Blood tests called liver function tests can tell your doctor if your liver is working normally. These can help to diagnose a liver problem. Other blood tests can check your general health.

Liver biopsy: A biopsy is a sample of cells from inside your liver. Your doctor will numb the area with local anaesthetic first and put a needle through your skin into your liver.
Often the doctor will use a CT or ultrasound scan at the same time to make sure the needle is put in the right place. Afterwards you will need to stay in hospital overnight so the nurses can check your wound and make sure you are not bleeding. Most patients go home the next day.

Other tests

Sometimes secondary liver cancer is diagnosed before the primary cancer is found. In this case, your doctor may wish to do more tests to find the primary cancer. These may include:

  • CT scan
  • PET scan
  • MRI scan

These scans can help to locate and stage the cancer. Staging means finding out the size of the cancer and if it has spread anywhere else. This can help your doctor to decide on the right treatment for you.

Learn more about the above tests

Call our National Cancer Helpline

Freephone 1800 200 700 to talk to a specialist cancer nurse
It's open Monday-Thursday from 9am to 7pm and Friday from 9am to 5pm