Controlling symptoms

Treating the cancer will often ease any symptoms you have. Even if you are no longer having treatment, your symptoms can still be controlled. You may see doctors or nurses who are experts in providing symptom controlled (called palliative care or supportive care).

Feeling weak and very tired is a common and difficult problem. Try to pace yourself and save energy for the things you enjoy. 

Pain in the liver or elsewhere in the body can be controlled by taking regular painkillers. Sometimes drugs called steroids are given to reduce swelling in the liver and help you to feel better. 

Ascites is a build up of fluid in the tummy that makes you feel bloated and breathless. Your doctor may put a small tube into your tummy to drain off the fluid.

Sometimes the cancer blocks the bile duct causing you to develop jaundice. This make the whites of the eyes and your skin turn yellow and you may feel itchy. Your doctor may put a tube (stent) into the bile duct to keep it open and relieve the jaundice.

Controlling symptoms

Treating the cancer in the liver will often ease the symptoms. If it’s not possible to have these or if they stop working there are other ways of controlling symptoms. This is sometimes called palliative treatment or supportive care.

Your doctor may refer you to a palliative care team who are experts in controlling symptoms and will support you and your family. The team often includes a doctor and nurses. They often work closely with a local hospice and can visit you and your family at home.

Feeling very tired and weak

This is a common and difficult problem for people with advanced cancer. It’s important to pace yourself and save energy for the things that matter to you and that you enjoy. Letting others help you with day-to-day chores saves energy for the things you really want to do.

Try to pace yourself. Tiredness makes it harder to concentrate or to take part fully in what’s going on around you. Plan important things for when you’re likely to feel less tired and rest before.


The cancer stretches the capsule surrounding the liver making it feel painful. Some people may get pain in the right shoulder (called referred pain).This is because the liver stimulates the nerves beneath the diaphragm (the sheet of muscle under the lungs) which connect to nerves in the right shoulder.

There are different types of painkillers your doctor can prescribe. If your pain isn’t controlled let them know as soon as possible. They can adjust the dose of the drug or change you to another one that works better for you. Make sure you take painkillers regularly as your doctor has prescribed.

Strong painkillers often cause constipation. Your doctor can prescribe a laxative for you to take. Eating more foods containing fibre and drinking plenty of fluids will also help.

Sometimes drugs called steroids can also help to control pain by reducing swelling around the liver. You usually have them as a short course of treatment lasting a few weeks or months. They can also make you feel more energetic and improve your appetite.


Ascites (a build-up of fluid in the tummy) can make you feel bloated and uncomfortable. It may make you feel breathless as it can prevent your lungs from fully expanding as you breathe.

Doctors sometimes prescribe water tablets (diuretics) that encourage the body to get rid of extra fluid as urine. They can also insert a small fine tube through the skin of your tummy to drain off the fluid. You can have this done in hospital using a local anaesthetic, and it can be done again if necessary. Some people may be able to have it done at home by a doctor.


Sometimes the bile duct – the tube that drains bile out of the liver and into the small bowel – can become blocked by the cancer. If this happens, bile builds up in the liver and flows back into the blood. It makes the whites of the eyes and skin turn yellow and you feel itchy (called jaundice). Your doctor can prescribe antihistamine tablets or other drugs to help relieve the itching.

Your doctor may put a narrow tube (stent) into the bile duct to keep it open. This allows the bile to flow normally into the small bowel and relieves the jaundice.

Back to Beginning to recover

Lifestyle and well-being

Looking after yourself and doing some physical activity can be an important part of your recovery.