How to Prevent and Manage Liver Cancer-Related Edema

Managing Liver Cancer and Edema

Liver Cancer and Edema

If you have liver cancer, you may experience swelling and abnormal accumulations of fluids. This condition is called edema.

Edema may occur anyplace in your body, but common places for fluid to accumulate include your legs, feet, lower back, and hands. Men may suffer from edema of the scrotum.

Edema may occur inside your body too. You may have fluid buildup in your lungs or around your heart. An accumulation of fluid in your abdomen is called ascites, and is a common problem for people who have liver cancer. You may have fluid buildup in one area or throughout your body.

Generalized edema is a term which describes fluid buildup throughout your entire body.

Management of Edema

Edema affects many parts of the body, so management is complicated. A multifaceted approach is best. Talk with members of your health care team so that you receive the best treatment that modern medicine offers.

There are important steps you can take at home to prevent edema as well. If edema occurs, you will be ready to take steps to minimize fluid buildup and reduce risks of complications caused by swollen tissues.

Why Do People Who Have Liver Cancer Get Edema?

There are several reasons why edema occurs when liver cancer is present, though some of the mechanisms are not fully understood.

When you have liver cancer, your liver cannot form albumin effectively. Albumin, a protein, is the same substance that comprises egg whites, and like egg whites the albumin in your body is thick and gel-like. Without the “thickening” effects of albumin, fluids leak out of your bloodstream into the tissues of your body.


Your kidneys produce a hormone called aldosterone. Aldosterone helps your body to reabsorb fluids from your kidneys by helping the body to reabsorb sodium. When your body reabsorbs sodium, it reabsorbs water too. When you have liver cancer, your liver does not use aldosterone properly, and so levels of aldosterone rise in the bloodstream. The end result is impaired kidney function and further leakage of fluid into your tissues.

To complicate matters further, the actions of another hormone produced by the kidneys, ADH, antidiuretic hormone, are affected too. Again, the end result is fluid accumulation in the tissues.

What Causes Ascites?

All of the reasons given above create ascites. Additional mechanisms create fluid buildup in your abdomen. Due to liver damage, pressure within the main blood vessels of your liver increases. Through a series of complex mechanisms, plasma and other fluids leak out of your blood vessels. This fluid accumulates in your abdomen, causing ascites.

Lymphatic fluid also leaks from the surface of your liver, contributing to the buildup of fluid in your abdomen as well.

Managing Edema Through Food and Drink

Check with your health care provider for specific recommendations, but here are some actions that are beneficial for most people diagnosed with liver cancer. The actions you take will need to be modified if you have advanced disease.

  • Eat a low sodium diet. In general, you should limit your salt intake to between 250-500mg. per day. Keep in mind that much of the salt we eat comes from prepackaged and processed foods; not from salt that we add at the table. Baking soda, baking powder, smoked meats, pickles, bread, and condiments contain high levels of sodium.
  • Read product labels carefully. Opt for sodium free or reduced sodium products.
  • See if your health care provider recommends the use of a salt substitute.
  • If you crave salt, rather than snacking on chips or other salty foods, eat some raw celery. Celery contains sodium; but it is a healthy form which your body may utilize.
  • Consult with your dietitian on a regular basis. Obtain lists of foods which you should eat and those which are unhealthy for you. Learn specific instructions regarding, sodium, potassium, protein, and fluids.
  • Consider making an appointment with an alternative health practitioner for recommendations of herbs and other supplements which support liver health, facilitate elimination of excess fluids, and provide nutritional support. Be sure that conventional and alternative practitioners are aware of all medications and supplements that you are taking.
  • Find out if your health care practitioner wants you to restrict your intake of fluids. Be aware that carbonated beverages, such as soda and beer contain sodium. Avoid alcohol completely. Tomato and vegetable juices are high in sodium; however low sodium varieties are readily available.

Next page: Information on liver cancer and edema management.

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Patricia BratianuPatricia Bratianu

Patricia is a registered nurse with 40 years of experience. She has a PhD in natural health and is a registered herbalist with the American Herbalists Guild.

Feb 18, 2015
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