Liver cancer pain can be pulsating, sharp, or dull and constant. The pain does not usually come and go and can vary based on the size and location of the tumors and how they affect surrounding tissue.

In cases of liver cancer, the pain may occur near the location of the liver itself — in the top-right quarter of the abdomen — or it may occur in the right shoulder blade or back.

In this article, we look at what liver cancer pain feels like, where the pain may occur, and other symptoms that can indicate liver cancer. We will also look at other conditions that could cause similar symptoms.

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Pain from liver cancer does not typically come and go. Instead, it is usually persistent, or chronic. How the pain feels can depend on where the tumors are.

When tumors grow on organs or tissues, it can cause soft tissue damage. This may cause pain that feels as though it is pulsating. Tumors can also press on nerves, which may cause nerve pain that feels sharp or stabbing.

In some cases, people with liver cancer also have tumors that metastasize to bone. This can cause a dull, constant pain that can become severe. Initially, the pain may be worse at night and improve when a person moves around. Later, it may become constant and worsen with movement.

If tumors block blood vessels or other channels, this can also result in pain.

Pain from liver cancer often manifests in the top right quadrant of the abdomen. It can also occur in the right shoulder blade or back. This is known as referred pain, which occurs when pressure on a nerve in one part of the body causes pain in another part.

Liver cancer can cause visceral pain or parietal pain. Visceral pain occurs in the cavities between organs due to pressure from tumors. Visceral pain may feel dull, aching, and constant, or cramp-like.

Parietal pain occurs when the walls of the liver become stretched. This can cause a sharp, localized pain.

Other symptoms that may indicate liver cancer include:

If a person has pain in their abdomen, shoulder, or back, it does not necessarily mean they have liver cancer. There are many other causes for these symptoms.

Pain in the right shoulder

Other causes of pain in the right shoulder blade include:

  • Gallbladder inflammation: In one-third of cases of gallbladder inflammation, people experience severe pain in their right shoulder.
  • Sprain: Sprains are a common cause of shoulder pain and account for more than 40% of shoulder injuries.
  • Fracture: A fracture, or break, in the bones in or around the shoulder can cause pain, swelling, bruising, and difficulty moving the arm.
  • Swimmer’s shoulder: Swimmer’s shoulder encompasses a variety of shoulder injuries that can occur when a person is swimming, often due to the repetitive shoulder motions involved in swimming strokes. These injuries include:
  • Frozen shoulder: Frozen shoulder, or adhesive capsulitis, is a condition in which the shoulder is painful and difficult to move due to inflammation. The tissue surrounding the shoulder joint becomes stiff, affecting range of motion and causing pain.

Pain in the upper right abdomen

Potential causes of this symptom include:

A person should contact a doctor if they have any concerns that they may have cancer. They should do this as a matter of urgency if they have:

  • pain and other symptoms of liver cancer that persist or worsen after 2 weeks
  • significant weight loss in the last 6–12 months without trying
  • a lump in the abdomen

If a person develops jaundice or has been vomiting for more than 2 days, they should speak with a doctor as soon as possible.

As the symptoms of liver cancer can be due to other conditions, it is important for a doctor to evaluate them and run diagnostic tests. They may be able to rule out liver cancer or make an early diagnosis. The earlier the diagnosis, the better the chances are of successful treatment.

Pain from liver cancer can occur in the upper right abdomen, the right shoulder, or the back. The pain may vary depending on the cause. Soft tissue pain may feel pulsating, whereas nerve pain can be sharp or stabbing. In cases where tumors metastasize to bone, a person may experience deep, dull pain.

However, there are a variety of other potential causes for pain in the upper right abdomen or the right shoulder. These include gallstones, other liver conditions, and kidney conditions.

Only a doctor can diagnose the cause of these symptoms. If a person has any concerns they may have cancer, they should consult a physician.