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Is liver cancer easy to find in the early stages?

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Quick Answer

Liver cancer is difficult to diagnose in early stages, as it often has no symptoms, and it is rare that medical staff are able to feel tumors from outside the body, according to MD Anderson Cancer Center. The tumor's development causes symptoms, but by then the staging is often advanced.

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Full Answer

Some common symptoms that liver cancer causes as it advances include loss of appetite, unexplained weight loss, abdominal swelling, and pain in the right upper abdomen or near the right shoulder blade. Jaundice, which presents with yellowing of the eyes and skin as well as dark urine, feeling full after small meals, fatigue, nausea and fever are also potential symptoms, notes MD Anderson Cancer Center.

In some types of liver cancer, the disease stimulates the production of hormones that cause fatigue, confusion, nausea, constipation, or redness of the face. In men, shrinkage of the testicles is also a possibility, reports MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Once a doctor suspects liver cancer, he has the option of performing a blood test to detect alpha-fetoprotein, often a sign of liver cancer. Other blood tests look for liver function. Imaging tests, such as a CT scan, angiogram or ultrasound, are also common. Biopsy of liver tissue or an identified tumor looks for cancerous tissue, as stated by MD Anderson Cancer Center.

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