Key Points about Secondary Liver Cancer
- Secondary liver cancer is cancer that has started in another area of the body and then spread to the liver.
- Doctors use imaging tests, biopsy and physical exams to diagnose secondary liver cancer.
- Treatment for secondary liver cancer may include surgery, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy and/or radiation therapy.
The liver is an organ in the abdomen that is involved in many important bodily processes, including secreting bile, storing fat and sugar and converting harmful toxins to less harmful forms. Secondary liver cancer is cancer that has started in another area of the body and then spread to the liver. It is also known as liver metastases.
Secondary liver cancer most often spreads from colorectal cancer.
Less often, secondary liver cancer can spread from:
- Breast cancer
- Esophageal cancer
- Kidney (renal) cancer
- Lung cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Skin cancer
- Stomach cancer
Secondary liver cancer causes
Secondary liver cancer occurs when cancer spreads through the bloodstream from another area of the body to the liver.
Secondary liver cancer risk factors
Having colorectal cancer puts you at an increased risk of developing secondary liver cancer.
Secondary liver cancer symptoms
Signs and symptoms of secondary liver cancer can include:
- Decreased appetite
- Edema (swelling of the legs)
- Jaundice (yellowing the whites of the eyes and skin)
- Unintentional weight loss
Secondary 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, your 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.
- Endoscopy – during this imaging test, your doctor passes a thin, flexible tube with a camera on the end of it through your mouth and into your esophagus. Your doctor then takes images of the inside of your body to check for anomalies.
- 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.
Secondary liver cancer treatment
Depending on your personal health history, the extent of the secondary 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.