Symptoms that may indicate end stage liver cancer include increased fatigue, abdominal pain, and jaundice, which is the yellowing of the skin and mucus membranes.

If a person is nearing the end of life, they may experience changes in their breathing, eating and drinking, and mental state.

The symptoms and outlook for liver cancer may vary for each person and depend on the type of cancer and stage at diagnosis.

This article examines potential symptoms, timeline, and life expectancy for end stage liver cancer.

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The American Cancer Society (ACS) states that when cancer begins in the liver, it is called primary liver cancer. Types of primary liver cancers include hepatocellular carcinoma, angiosarcoma, and hemangiosarcoma.

Primary liver cancers often grow quickly.

The length of time it takes for liver cancer to reach end-stage may depend on factors such as:

  • the type of liver cancer
  • how the cancer responds to treatment and whether doctors can surgically remove it
  • the stage at which people receive a diagnosis

Doctors may use staging systems to predict life expectancy for liver cancer.

However, the following figures are estimates. A person can ask their doctor about how their condition is going to affect them.

Barcelona Clinic Liver Cancer (BCLC) system

Stage C of the BCLC system describes an advanced stage liver cancer, and stage D is the end stage. The BCLC system gives the following median survival rates:

  • Stage C: A person has a median survival of 11–13 months with treatment or 6-8 months without treatment.
  • Stage D: A person has a median survival of 3–4 months.

The National Cancer Institute defines median survival rate as the length of time from either the diagnosis date or the beginning of treatment that half of the people in a group diagnosed with a disease are still alive.

Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program (SEER)

SEER tracks a person’s 5-year relative survival rate based on how far the cancer has spread throughout the body:

  • Localized: The cancer has not spread outside the liver.
  • Regional: The cancer has spread to nearby structures and lymph nodes.
  • Distant: The cancer has spread to distant parts of the body.

A relative survival rate helps give an idea of how long a person with a particular condition will live after receiving a diagnosis compared to people without the condition.

For example, if the 5-year relative survival rate is 70%, it means that a person with the condition is 70% as likely to live for 5 years as someone without the condition.

The 5-year relative survival rate is 12.8% for regional stage liver cancer and 3.1% for distant stage liver cancer.

The following symptoms may indicate end-stage liver cancer. Certain symptoms may also indicate that a person is nearing the end of life.

Beginning of late-stage liver cancer

According to the ACS, the signs and symptoms of liver cancer do not typically appear until the cancer has advanced to the later stages.

Some of the most common symptoms of late-stage liver cancer are:

Other possible symptoms include:

  • fever
  • enlarged veins on the stomach
  • unusual bleeding
  • unusual bruising

Symptoms of nearing the end of life

It may not always be clear when a person is nearing the end of life, as some people may or may not display a change in symptoms.

People with cancer who are nearing the end of life may have the following symptoms:

How long does it take for a person to experience changes to their appetite after a diagnosis?

The length of time it takes for people with end-stage liver cancer to experience changes to their appetite and fluid intake may vary for each person and their individual situation.

People may experience a loss of appetite with advanced cancer. Symptoms such as shortness of breath, nausea, and constipation, as well as medication side effects, may affect how people eat and drink.

People may experience changes to eating and drinking toward the end of life. As the body starts to slow down, a person may feel the need for less food.

A person may lose their appetite because their body needs to save energy and has a reduced ability to use food and fluids as it usually would.

In the last few days or hours of life, people may lose their appetite completely and may not want to drink fluids either. To keep the mouth and lips moist, people may use ice chips or dab with a damp cloth.

People may show different symptoms, or no symptoms, near the end of life. People may experience the following symptoms, although these do not always indicate that death is near:

  • withdrawal from loved ones, caregivers, and activities
  • lack of responsiveness to caregivers
  • changes in sleep patterns, such as increased sleep
  • increased difficulty in managing pain
  • increased weakness and fatigue
  • confusion
  • waking dreams
  • discussion of visions, going on a trip, or certain symbols

A 2018 review suggests that early access to consistent palliative care is beneficial for people with liver cancer and their loved ones.

Palliative care provides medical treatment, helps people manage symptoms, and focuses on improving quality of life. People with a serious illness such as liver cancer can receive palliative care at any age and at any stage of the disease.

People may choose to use hospice care in the final 6 months of life. Healthcare professionals may suggest hospice care if they believe a person has 6 months or less to live based on the level of disease. Hospices offer care up to the end of life.

The time liver cancer takes to reach end-stage can vary from person to person. However, primary liver cancer tends to grow quickly.

The life expectancy for a person with end-stage liver cancer can also vary. Doctors can use different staging systems to predict a person’s life expectancy. However, these figures are estimates and a person should speak with a doctor about how liver cancer might affect them.

End-stage liver cancer may cause certain symptoms, such as jaundice, abdominal pain, fatigue, and digestive issues.

Near the end of life, people may display symptoms, such as irregular breathing, a loss of desire to eat and drink, or increased sleep. However, these symptoms may vary for each person and may not always indicate the end of life.

People may want to consider palliative care and hospice care to provide medical care and improve quality of life for people with late-stage liver cancer.