Being diagnosed with liver cancer is bound to be a shock, whether you already have liver disease or not. People react in different ways. Some start searching for information straight away. Others need time for the diagnosis to sink in before they can take anything else in.
On this page, there is information that other people say would have helped when they were diagnosed.
When you’re first diagnosed, you may find it hard to think about anything else. The turmoil won’t last. You’re bound to have good and bad days – sometimes feeling overwhelmed and others more positive. Try to take one day at a time. And don’t feel pressured about how you should feel. You’ll need time to process what’s happened.
It’s best to talk about how you feel, rather than bottle it up. That’s not always easy. Sometimes people worry about upsetting those closest to them by talking openly. If this is the case, you may find it helpful to see a counsellor, or call a helpline. The British Liver Trust’s nurse-led helpline is here to help if you have questions or just need a chat. Call 0800 652 7330.
Talking to other people with cancer can be very supportive. We have an online forum for people with liver disease that includes many people with liver cancer. Or your treatment centre may be able to put you in touch with a local cancer support group. There’s more information on coping emotionally on our mental wellbeing page.
Day to day life
As well as affecting you emotionally, cancer can affect you practically. You may have to take time off work, or have more expenses, such as travelling for treatment. You might need a bit of help at times during your treatment, particularly if you usually live alone, or you have children or other people to care for.
Once you know what treatment you’ll be having, you’ll be able to find out more about it. Knowing about your treatment will help you plan ahead. See our Liver Cancer Treatment section for information on all types of liver cancer treatment.
We also have information on money matters, including pensions, insurance, grants and benefits. Our support from others page covers where to find practical help, helplines and support groups, and includes information for families and friends.
Some people need to find out everything they can as soon as they’re diagnosed with an illness. But there’s a lot to take in, so you may want to pace yourself and look for information as you need it.
While you are being treated you will be assigned a clinical nurse specialist who will be your main point of contact. You can call them with any questions or concerns you have, to check test results or to talk about what happens next.
It’s really important to know the exact type of liver cancer you have before you start looking for detailed information. There are several types of liver cancer and they have different treatments. Our sections on each type of liver cancer cover all stages and treatments.
If you’ve had cancer somewhere else, and it’s spread to your liver, you have secondary liver cancer, which is different again.
The next most important thing is to find a reliable source of information. A good source will have had their information checked by medical specialists and will update it regularly (it should have a review date). The information on this website and on the British Liver Trust main site is all developed with patients and clinicians and checked regularly. The NHS and medical charities are good sources.
If you talk to other patients at the clinic or hospital, do bear in mind that their medical situation is unlikely to be exactly the same as yours. So there will be differences in recommended treatments, for example.
Finally, a word on outcome statistics. Some people want them, some don’t. There’s no right or wrong. We have provided outcome stats for each type of liver cancer, so they’re there if you do want them.
For any cancer type, everyone’s situation is different and statistics can only ever be a guide.
And because primary liver cancers are rare, the stats are likely to be less reliable and less up to date than for commoner cancers. With a rare cancer, it takes longer to find enough cases to produce statistics.
Talking about cancer
Often, one of the first things people think about when they’re diagnosed is how to tell those closest to them. These aren’t conversations you’re likely to look forward to. But many people feel a great sense of relief once they’ve shared the news. Once you’ve told people, they can help support you. Make sure you’ve got enough time and are somewhere you won’t be interrupted. And don’t worry if either of you get upset. It’s a natural reaction.
You may want to tell someone close to you and ask them to pass the news on. Then you won’t have to keep repeating it, which can be tiring and upsetting. Or you could write a letter or email if that feels easier.
As liver cancers are relatively rare, people may not have come across them before. It can all be difficult to understand. It may help to get our booklet: Liver Cancers. Then you can focus on telling family or friends about the diagnosis and they can find out more before you talk again.
It can be a strain keeping everyone up to date as you go through treatment. Some people write a blog or diary on Facebook or other social media that friends and family can read. There are also websites where you or someone you’re close to can share updates on what’s happening. Writing down what’s happening may also be helpful as an outlet for your feelings.
Family and friends
When someone’s diagnosed with cancer, family and friends can need support too. Our Support from others page has information on how to look after yourselves and get the help you need.
Most people’s first thought is that they want to help and support the person who’s been diagnosed. Being a listening ear is a good start. Of course, neither you nor they will want to talk about cancer all the time – it’s good for life to go on. And treating people normally, as you always have, is also supportive. But let them know that if they want to talk about anything, you’ll be there.
During treatment, people may need practical help – shopping, transport to and from hospital, washing and housework, or preparing and freezing meals so they don’t need to cook. As well as lightening the load, it helps people feel supported and cared for.
Being diagnosed with cancer can make you think about your health more generally. People often ask what diet will help them recover. There’s no special cancer diet – just the usual guidelines for eating healthily:
- 5 daily portions of fruit and vegetables, have a range of colours as they are linked to the vitamins and minerals they contain
- Protein – poultry, fish, eggs, beans and pulses, tofu. Less red and processed meat.
- Carbs for energy – potatoes, bread, rice and pasta; wholegrain varieties are best.
- Less fat, salt and sugar.
There may be times during your treatment when you don’t feel like eating. Our page Diet and Exercise has information on diet problems and tips on how to manage.
As well as improving physical fitness, exercise can help to improve sleep and reduce anxiety and depression. Fitness is important when recovering from treatment. If you’re going to have surgery, your doctor may offer you an ‘enhanced recovery programme’. This starts before your operation and continues throughout your recovery. It includes advice on diet and exercise, and help with relaxation.
The page on Diet and Exercise has more about enhanced recovery. There is also information on recommended levels and types of cardio and resistance exercise for people with cancer.
People often turn to complementary therapies when they have cancer. Therapies such as massage, aromatherapy or reflexology can help you to relax and feel better. Some people find complementary therapies help with managing symptoms or side effects of treatment. Our page on Complementary and Alternative Therapies has more information.
We’re here to help
Talk to a nurse on our helpline:
0800 652 7330
Monday to Friday 10am – 3pm
Alternatively email firstname.lastname@example.org
Talk with other people living with liver cancer in our online community.
Content last reviewed: October 2022
Next review date: October 2025