Yellow skin, yellow eyes: do I have liver cancer?

Primary liver cancer is rare, but early diagnosis is important

liver cancer

Yellowing of the skin and eyes, along with weight loss, itchy skin and feeling tired are some of the symptoms of liver cancer.


As scary as these symptoms might be, many of the signs and symptoms of liver cancer can also be caused by other conditions, including other liver problems or even a vitamin overdose. None-the-less, yellowing of the skin and eyes, along with weight loss, itchy skin and feeling tired are some of the symptoms of liver cancer. By the time these symptoms occur, the disease may have already spread. That’s why it is so important to see your doctor right away if you have these symptoms, so the cause can be found and treated.

What does the liver do?

The main function of the liver is to detoxify the body, or get rid of the junk that is clogging up your internal system. When cancer strikes, this system of checks and balances is upset, resulting in changes to your body, like skin and eye changes.

Risk factors associated with primary liver cancer

When someone has cancer that started somewhere else in the body, it can spread to distant places including the liver, and that is called a secondary cancer. But when cancer starts in the liver, it is called primary liver cancer. Primary liver cancer is a rare disease, but these are the major risk-factors associated with it:

  • Viral hepatitis
  • Cirrhosis from chronic alcoholism
  • Obesity and fatty liver disease, also called nonalcoholic fatty liver disease or NAFLD
  • Diabetes
  • Gender – primary liver cancer is more common in men
  • Chemical exposure or use of anabolic steroids

If you are having any of the symptoms of liver cancer, including yellow eyes or yellow, itchy skin, take these symptoms seriously and see your health provider to find and treat the cause. In most cases it won’t be liver cancer, but even so, your liver will thank you.

Take the next step:

  • Learn more about primary liver cancer from the American Cancer Society.
  • Find out about the many types of treatment options available at the University of Michigan by calling the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Multidisciplinary Liver Tumor Clinic, 734-637-8902.
  • Still have questions? Call the nurses at the University of Michigan Cancer AnswerLine™. They can help patients or their loved ones find a clinical trial or provide insights into the newest and latest cancer treatments. Feel free to call at 1-800-865-1125 or send an e-mail.

vanessa thumbnailThe Cancer AnswerLine™ nurses are experienced in oncology care, including helping patients and their families who have questions about cancer. These registered oncology nurses are available by calling 800-865-1125 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Your call is always free and confidential.



Cancer-center-informal-vertical-sig-150x150The University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s 1,000 doctors, nurses, care givers and researchers are united by one thought: to deliver the highest quality, compassionate care while working to conquer cancer through innovation and collaboration. The center is among the top-ranked national cancer programs, and #1 in Michigan according to U.S. News & World Report. Our multidisciplinary clinics offer one-stop access to teams of specialists for personalized treatment plans, part of the ideal patient care experience. Patients also benefit through access to promising new cancer therapies.