HealthItching and yellowing skin: Liver cancer's silent signals often miscued

Itching and yellowing skin: Liver cancer's silent signals often miscued

Itching and skin rash warn that the liver is having trouble.
Itching and skin rash warn that the liver is having trouble.
Images source: © Licensor | Vitalina Nakonechna
9:30 AM EST, January 13, 2024

Persistent itching is hard to ignore because it greatly affects daily routines. It is common for people to consult a dermatologist to relieve the discomfort, but this may not always work.

In some cases, itching is a symptom of diseases not related to skin conditions, such as kidney failure, diabetes, lymphomas, and cholestatic chronic liver diseases.

Treatment focusing solely on the skin symptoms could be ineffective in these situations.

In the case of liver cancer, itching is often associated with jaundice, a condition caused by an accumulation of bilirubin, a component of bile, in the body.

When the liver malfunctions – for instance due to a tumor – bilirubin can accumulate in the skin, causing itching among other effects.

Often, itching is the first noticeable symptom of liver disease for patients - subtle skin yellowing might be misattributed to seasonal changes or lack of sleep.

Symptoms of liver cancer

If you experience long-term skin itching in conjunction with skin yellowing, loss of appetite, weight loss, or chronic fatigue, you should seek immediate medical attention and request a blood bilirubin test.

A healthy individual produces about 0.007 to 0.012 ounces of bilirubin; larger quantities are commonly seen in newborns and pregnant women. In adults, the normal total bilirubin range is between 0.0036 mg/dl to 0.020 mg/dl.

An elevated level of bilirubin can indicate several diseases, with liver cancer being among the most severe.

Life after liver cancer

For patients whose liver cancer is detected and treated early (meaning the tumor does not exceed approximately 0.8 inches), the outlook is quite positive.

The five-year survival rate, which refers to the percentage of people who live for at least five years after diagnosis, can be as high as 90 percent in these cases.

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