In some people, liver cancer can cause pain, particularly in the upper right area of the abdomen. This usually only happens in more advanced cases.
Pain associated with liver cancer can be managed with pain medicines. These may be mild, like paracetamol; moderate, like codeine; or strong and opioid-based, like morphine. Radiation therapy, chemotherapy or surgery may also provide relief by reducing the size of a liver tumour that is causing pain. Some people may have an injection of local anaesthetic to numb the nerve sending the pain signals (nerve block).
How to cope with pain
- Keep track of your pain in a symptom diary. Try to describe what the pain feels like, how intense it is, exactly where it is, where it comes from and travels to, how long it lasts, and if it goes away with a specific pain medicine or with any other therapy, such as a heat pack.
- Allow a few days for your body to adjust to the dose of pain medicine and for any drowsiness to improve.
- Let your doctor know if you have vivid dreams, nausea or other side effects after taking a strong pain medicine such as morphine. Adjusting the dose may help or you can try other methods of pain relief.
- Use a laxative regularly to prevent or relieve constipation from codeine or morphine.
- Take pain medicine regularly as prescribed, even when you’re not in pain. It’s better to stay on top of the pain.
- For more on this, see Pain and cancer.
Listen to our podcast on Managing Pain when Cancer is Advanced
Dr David Yeo, Hepatobiliary/Transplant Surgeon, Royal Prince Alfred, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse Cancer Centre and St George Hospitals, NSW; Dr Lorraine Chantrill, Head of Department Medical Oncology, Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District, NSW; Michael Coulson, Consumer; Dr Sam Davis, Interventional Radiologist, Staff Specialist, Royal Brisbane and Women‘s Hospital, QLD; Prof Chris Karapetis, Network Clinical Director (Cancer Services), Southern Adelaide Local Health Network, Head, Department of Medical Oncology, Flinders Medical Centre and Flinders University, SA; Dr Howard Liu, Radiation Oncologist, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Lina Sharma, Consumer; Dr Graham Starkey, Hepato-Biliary and General Surgeon, Austin Hospital, VIC; Catherine Trevaskis, Gastrointestinal Cancer Specialist Nurse, Canberra Hospital and Health Services, ACT; Dr Michael Wallace, Western Australia Liver Transplant Service, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, WA.
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