Does Cancer in the Liver Cause Pain?

In some, liver cancer may cause pain, particularly in the upper right area of the abdomen.
In some, liver cancer may cause pain, particularly in the upper right area of the abdomen.

In some, liver cancer may cause pain, particularly in the upper right area of the abdomen. Often people with liver cancer may experience pain accompanied by swelling or the formation of hard lumps felt in the right side of the abdomen. People may also feel discomfort in the back, below the right shoulder blade.

What is liver cancer?

Liver cancer, also known as hepatic cancer, is a type of cancer that starts in the liver. The different types of liver cancer are

  • Primary liver cancer: This cancer originates in the liver. Primary liver cancer is of different types
    • Hepatocellular carcinoma (the most common form of liver cancer)
    • Intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer)
    • Angiosarcoma and hemangiosarcoma (cancer that begins in the cell lining of the blood vessels in the liver)
    • Hepatoblastoma (cancer containing immature cells, generally occurring in infants and young children)
  • Secondary liver cancer (metastatic liver cancer): Cancer originating in other parts and migrating to the liver.
  • Benign liver tumors: Noncancerous tumors may grow large enough to cause problems, but they do not invade nearby tissues.

What are the sources of pain in liver cancer?

People with liver cancer or advanced stage liver cancer may experience pain from various sources, including

  • Tumors: Tumor or tumors in the liver can cause excess pain.
  • Capsule stretching: Stretching of the capsule around the liver can cause discomfort.
  • Referred pain: Referred pain is caused by the enlarged liver pressing on the nerves under the diaphragm. It may give rise to pain in the right shoulder because some of the nerves under the diaphragm connect to nerves there.
  • Treatment: Cancer medications and treatment may cause pain and discomfort. Also, surgery can cause postoperative pain.
  • Underlying medical conditions: If cirrhosis is the cause of liver cancer, pain may be attributed to cirrhosis and not to cancer.

How does liver cancer pain feel like?

Pain may vary from person to person. Some forms of liver cancer pain include

  • Dull, throbbing sensation in the upper right abdomen
  • Stabbing sensation that takes the breath away
  • Pain radiating to back or in the right shoulder blade


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How is liver cancer pain managed?

The physician chooses to remove cancer with surgery, chemotherapy or radiation. Medications for pain fall into three categories

Moreover, additional therapy might help treat pain, which includes

  • Nerve block: Sometimes, a nerve block or local anesthetic relieves or reduces pain. The physician injects local anesthesia into or near nerves in the abdomen.
  • Radiation: It can reduce the tumor size, thus relieving some or all of the pain. 

Alternative treatment may also be used along with medical management to treat cancer pain, which includes

  • Acupuncture
  • Biofeedback
  • Hypnosis
  • Massage therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Imagery
  • Relaxation

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors

Christian-Miller N, Frenette C. Hepatocellular cancer pain: impact and management challenges. J Hepatocell Carcinoma. 2018;5:75-80.

Mayo Clinic. Cancer Pain: Relief Is Possible.