Liver cancer can affect the skin. Liver cancer may prevent the liver from processing a substance called bilirubin. This causes a buildup of bilirubin within the blood, leading to jaundice.

This article looks at how liver cancer affects the skin. It will explain the connection between liver cancer and jaundice. It will also detail the relationship between jaundice and liver cancer stages, other liver cancer symptoms, and when to contact a doctor.

A medical student speaking with a doctor about liver cancer and skin changes.Share on Pinterest
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Cancer is uncontrolled, abnormal cell growth. It can begin in many of the body’s cells. When it begins in liver cells, it is called liver cancer.

A 2022 review notes that jaundice can be a symptom of liver cancer. With jaundice, a person’s skin and mucous membranes, such as their gums and whites of the eyes, develop a yellow coloration. This can progress into a greenish hue. Their skin can also become itchy.

Doctors classify liver cancer in stages. The stages correspond to the cancer’s severity, with later stages meaning more severe cancer. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), there are four main stages of liver cancer.

An article in the World Journal of Gastroenterology notes that jaundice is a symptom of more advanced liver cancers. This type of jaundice typically represents the cancer growing and blocking bile from draining as it should.

However, liver cancer is not the only cause of jaundice. Relatively common causes of jaundice include:

Anyone with symptoms of jaundice should speak with a doctor.

Scientists have a firm understanding of how liver cancer causes jaundice.

The liver has many functions. One liver function is processing a yellowish pigment called bilirubin. The body forms bilirubin when red blood cells break down. In a functioning liver, the processed bilirubin travels into the intestines.

Liver cancer can interfere with liver function. If the cancer destroys a significant amount of liver cells, the liver cannot process typical amounts of bilirubin. Additionally, liver cancer may spread to nearby organs, preventing bilirubin from entering the intestines.

As a result of such processes, there can be a bilirubin buildup within the blood. This is what causes jaundice.

Liver cancer does not only affect the skin. There are many possible symptoms of liver cancer. Some symptoms stem from the cancer’s effects on the liver itself.

The ACS states that the symptoms of liver cancer can include:

In some cases, liver tumors can release certain hormones. These hormones can create imbalances within the body, which may then affect other organs in addition to the liver.

Such processes could cause further symptoms of liver cancer:

Liver cancer can also cause high cholesterol levels, breast enlargement, and shrinking of the testicles.

Not everyone with symptoms of liver cancer will have jaundice. However, anyone who has symptoms of jaundice should seek medical advice. Even if they do not indicate liver cancer, it could be a sign of a different condition.

Getting an earlier diagnosis of liver cancer could improve a person’s outlook.

According to the ACS, the relative 5-year survival rate for early stage liver cancer is around 35%. That figure drops to around 3% in late stage liver cancer. This is partly because doctors can treat liver cancer more easily in its earlier stages.

Some treatment options are very effective. In people with early stage liver cancer who have received a liver transplant, the 5-year survival rate is 60–70%.

Liver cancer occurs when liver cells grow abnormally. This can result in liver dysfunction, causing an elevated blood bilirubin level. For this reason, liver cancer may cause jaundice. People with jaundice have itchy, yellowish skin.

There are many other symptoms of liver cancer, such as nausea, fever, and confusion. Talking with a doctor about these symptoms could lead to an early diagnosis and earlier treatment. This could make a difference in a person’s outlook.