Key Points about Metastatic Liver Cancer

  • Metastatic liver cancer starts in the liver and then spreads to another area of the body.
  • Doctors use imaging tests, biopsy and physical exams to diagnose metastatic liver cancer.
  • Treatment for metastatic liver cancer may include surgery, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy and/or radiation therapy.


The liver is an organ in the abdomen involved in many important bodily processes, including secreting bile, storing fat and sugar and converting harmful toxins to less harmful forms. Metastatic liver cancer occurs when cancer begins in the liver but then spreads to other areas of the body. The most common places that liver cancer spreads are the lungs or bones.

Metastatic liver cancer causes

Metastatic liver cancer occurs when cancer spreads through the bloodstream from the liver to another area of the body.

Metastatic liver cancer risk factors

Factors that can increase your risk for developing metastatic liver cancer include:

  • Having a family history of liver cancer
  • Having a personal history of liver conditions

Metastatic liver cancer symptoms

Signs and symptoms of metastatic liver cancer can include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Decreased appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)
  • Nausea
  • Pain in the right shoulder blade or upper abdomen
  • Swelling or bloating of the abdomen
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Weakness

Metastatic liver cancer diagnosis

Your oncologist may use one or more of the following tests to diagnose this condition:

  • Physical exam – your doctor will perform a complete physical exam, including asking questions about your health history, symptoms and related risk factors.;
  • Biopsy – in this test, your doctor removes a biopsy (small sample) from the suspicious area. This sample is sent to the laboratory, where a specialist closely checks the biopsy for cancer.
  • Blood test – your doctor sends a sample of your blood to the laboratory for close analysis. Lab technicians can determine if certain tumor markers are present in your blood.
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan – this type of imaging test provides a 3D image of the inside of the body that your doctor can use to determine the size and location of the cancer.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – this type of imaging test uses high-powered magnets to create detailed images of the inside of your body. Your doctor can closely examine these images to determine the size and location of the cancer.

Metastatic liver cancer treatment

Depending on your personal health history, the extent of the metastatic liver cancer and other factors, your oncologist may recommend one or more of the following treatment options:

  • Surgery – you may need to undergo surgery to remove the cancerous area. Your surgeon will work to preserve as much surrounding healthy tissue as possible.
  • Chemotherapy – you may need to also undergo chemotherapy to destroy any cancerous cells that couldn’t be removed surgically. During this treatment, medication is used to destroy cancerous cells. Chemotherapy can be taken via an oral (by mouth) pill or intravenously (through a vein).
  • Radiation therapy – this treatment uses high-powered energy beams to destroy cancerous cells. You may need to undergo radiation therapy to destroy any cancerous cells that couldn’t be removed surgically.
  • Targeted drug therapy – this treatment involves taking medications that target specific weaknesses of the cancerous cells, working to destroy them.

When should I seek care?

If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing an oncologist for more specialized treatment.

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