Is There Pain With Liver Cancer?

Reviewed on 4/28/2021

Yes, there is pain with liver cancer, but it usually does not appear in the early stages.
Yes, there is pain with liver cancer, but it usually does not appear in the early stages.

Yes, there is pain with liver cancer, but it usually does not appear in the early stages. The tumor that is large enough to press on the nearby structures or spread to the adjoining organs can cause pain. You will experience pain in the right upper part of the abdomen, in the right shoulder blade or the back. The pain may be dull, throbbing or stabbing in nature. Your doctor has several medications in their arsenal to treat the pain.

Causes of pain from liver cancer are

  • The outer covering of the liver contains sensory nerves. The tumor enlarges the liver and stretches the sensory nerves. As a result, you experience abdominal discomfort or pain.
  • The liver is the largest organ in the body and is located on the right side of the upper abdomen just below the diaphragm. If it contains cancer, the tumor may press on the diaphragm below. The nerves that pass through the diaphragm are also connected to the shoulder blade. Hence, you may experience pain in the right shoulder blade. This is known as referred pain.
  • Some of the medications given in the treatment of liver cancer may also cause abdominal pain as one of their side effects. If you have been operated on for liver cancer, you will also experience mild pain for a few days after surgery.
  • The spread of liver cancer to organs, such as the bones and the lungs, may also cause pain in these organs.

How is the pain from liver cancer treated?

Your doctor will discuss various options of cancer treatment with you. Some of these treatments help reduce the pain. These include

  • Anti-inflammatory medications

For mild to moderate pain in liver cancer, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, are preferred. Corticosteroids, such as dexamethasone, may be administered if NSAIDs do not provide adequate relief.

An anesthetic medication numbs the area where it is injected and thus, helps lessen the pain. In the case of liver cancer, the anesthetic medication is injected into the nerves near the liver. This is also referred to as nerve block.

These are strong painkillers that are reserved for severe kinds of pain, such as cancer. They work by blocking the pain impulses of the nervous system. As these are known to cause addiction, they are not available as over-the-counter medications. You can get them only if they are prescribed by a doctor.

Radiation therapy involves focusing powerful and high-energy beams on liver cancer to destroy the cancer cells and shrink the tumor. The decrease in the size of the tumor may help relieve the pressure on the diaphragm and nearby structures. This helps in reducing the pain from liver cancer.

  • Alternative therapies

There are reports of patients reporting relief in cancer pain and improved quality of life with alternative therapies that include

  • Acupuncture: This is an integral part of Chinese medicine. It involves locating some points on your body and inserting small needles into them for a few seconds to minutes. 
  • Acupressure: Acupressure also uses similar principles as acupuncture. However, instead of needles, pressure is applied on the points to relieve the pain.
  • Relaxation therapies: Some may benefit from relaxation therapies, such as

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References
Mayo Clinic. Liver Cancer. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/liver-cancer/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20353664

Government of Ireland. Pharmacological Management of Cancer Pain in Adults. July 8, 2019. https://www.gov.ie/en/collection/eec97d-pharmacological-management-of-cancer-pain-in-adults/

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