Liver cancer symptoms: What colour are your stools? Sign of the deadly disease

Liver cancer symptoms: What colour are your stools? Sign of the deadly disease


Liver cancer has seen a staggering rise in deaths from the disease in recent years. Figures revealed a stark comparison in fatalities between the period of 2007 to 2017. Experts believe there are several factors as to why this increase has occurred. These include more people being diagnosed with the disease and it being difficult to detect early symptoms resulting in poor prognosis. Spotting the early signs is crucial and if your stools are a certain colour, it could mean you’re at risk.


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Liver cancer can be categorised as either primary or secondary cancer. Primary liver cancer is cancer which starts in the liver, while secondary liver cancer starts elsewhere in the body and spreads to the liver, according to the British Liver Trust.

Often there are no obvious symptoms of liver cancer in the early stages of the disease.

This is due to the liver being an extremely resilient organ that continues to work well even when large parts of it are damaged.

A person’s stools holds many clues to their health.

Mountview Hospital said: “When you consume food, your body absorbs the nutrients and expels the remaining waste as stool.

“Because of this, your stool can reveal clues as to how well your internal processes are functioning.”

An early warning sign of potential liver cancer is having pale or grey coloured stools.

The British Liver Trust said: “If you do notice symptoms, they may be similar to those seen in other liver conditions, and are often exactly the same as those in cirrhosis.”

They include:

  • A general feeling of poor health
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of weight
  • Discomfort over the liver area (upper right hand section of the abdomen)
  • Itchy skin
  • Dark urine
  • Loss of libido


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What makes stools turn grey?

Normal stools can vary in shades of brown, mostly due to one’s diet. Pale or grey coloured stools are not normal.

This colour could be a symptom of liver cancer and relates to having a problem with the drainage of the biliary system, which is comprised of the gallbladder, liver and pancreas. Bile salts are released into the stools by the liver, giving the stools their usual brown colour.

If the liver is not producing enough bile, or if the flow is blocked and not draining from the liver, the stools may become pale.

Having pale stools once in a while may not be a cause for concern.

If it occurs frequently, however, it could signal liver cancer and it’s strongly advised to speak with your GP.

According to Cancer Research UK, if liver cancer has progressed to the point that surgery is not an option, survival is often only a matter of months.

“Your GP will take your medical history and ask about your symptoms. They will also perform a detailed clinical examination.

“Your GP will then take some blood samples and may arrange for you to have an abdominal ultrasound scan,” added British Liver Trust.

Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK (CRUK) said: “A lot of progress has been made saving lives from cancer, but it’s worrying to see deaths from liver cancer increasing at such an alarming rate.

The CRUK team say the increase in cases of liver cancer was probably down to a rise in obesity and associated health conditions. It is estimated that just a quarter of all cases of liver cancer are linked to being overweight or obese.”

“Unfortunately, liver cancer can be hard to treat because there are often very few early symptoms, which means by the time a diagnosis is made, the disease is quite advanced,” added British Liver Trust.

If you notice pale, grey-coloured stools, speak with your GP immediately about the possible cause for this.

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