If you have any symptoms of liver cancer, they need to be checked by your doctor.

What is liver cancer?

Primary liver cancer is cancer that starts in the liver, a body part in your tummy (abdomen) that helps turn food into energy and cleans the blood.

Like the rest of your body, the liver is made of tiny 'building blocks' called cells.

Liver cancer begins when these cells grow abnormally into a lump or tumour. 

Cancer is a disease of the body's cells. It starts in our genes. Our bodies are constantly making new cells, a process controlled by certain genes. Cancers are caused by damage to these genes. As the damaged cells replicate a lump or tumour is formed. 

Tumours can be:

  • Benign - not cancerous. These do not spread to other parts of the body.
  • Malignant - cancerous


Sometimes other cancers spread to the liver. This is called secondary liver cancer (metastatic cancer).

Secondary liver cancer is a lot more common than primary liver cancer. The information on this page is about primary liver cancer.

If secondary cancer in the liver is found without knowing where the primary cancer is, you may be told you have a cancer of unknown primary. 

Liver cancer symptoms

Symptoms of liver cancer may include:

  • tiredness or weakness (fatigue)
  • pain in the tummy (abdomen)
  • swollen tummy
  • pain in the right shoulder
  • feeling sick (nausea) or vomiting
  • weight loss for no reason
  • yellowing of the skin and the whites of your eyes (jaundice)
  • pale-coloured poo (faeces)
  • fever

Early-stage liver cancer often has no symptoms. 

Having these symptoms does not mean you have liver cancer, but it is important to get any changes checked by your doctor.

Tips for talking to your doctor

  • make a list of what you are feeling and how often it happens, including as much detail as possible
  • think about your family/whānau history of cancer and tell your doctor
  • go back to your doctor if you don't feel better, even if tests show you don't have a problem - you can ask for a second opinion if you want one 
  • take a family/whānau member or friend with you to the appointment for support
Need someone to talk to?
8:30 am to 5:00 pm Monday to Friday
0800 226 237 Information nurse

We know that going through cancer is tough and can raise many questions. You are not alone.

We have health professionals to answer your questions and provide the support you need. Get in touch

Last updated: December 22, 2022