Metastatic liver cancer


A secondary cancer to another cancer somewhere else in the body

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What is secondary liver cancer?

Liver metastasis or secondary liver cancer is cancer that started in another part of the body and has spread to the liver. Quite often referred to as secondary liver cancer or metastatic liver disease. Liver metastasis is not the same as cancer that starts in the liver (called primary liver cancer). Sometimes cells break away from the primary cancer and are carried in the bloodstream to the liver. The cancer cells settle in the liver and form a new tumour.

Liver metastasis is much more common than primary liver cancer. Some types of cancer are more likely to spread to the liver than others. The most common types of cancer that spread to the liver are:

Need to know

With liver metastases, the symptoms are similar to those of primary liver cancer, although often there are no symptoms at all. Symptoms of liver metastases vary depending on the number of tumours and where they are in the liver. Symptoms may include:

  • loss of appetite and unexplained weight loss
  • feeling very full after eating, even small amounts
  • nausea and vomiting
  • pain or bloating in your tummy
  • jaundice (yellowing skin)
  • itchy skin
  • feeling tired and weak

As these symptoms are quite vague and can often be caused by other conditions, it’s a good idea to get checked by your GP or consultant if you notice them.

In order to diagnose liver metastasis, you may be given the following tests:

  • a physical examination to check for tenderness where the liver is, under the right-hand side of your rib cage
  • blood tests
  • liver endoscopic ultrasound scan (EUS)
  • CT scan
  • MRI scan
  • Liver biopsy (small needle used to take a sample of tissue) and your liver is then examined with a laparoscope (a thin tube with a tiny camera)

With secondary liver cancer, surgery may be an option, but chemotherapy is the most common treatment. This will depend on which parts of the liver are affected, where the primary cancer is, whether the primary tumour has been removed and if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. Options may include:

  • surgical resection – removing a section of liver
  • liver transplant – replacing with a donor liver
  • microwave or radiofrequency ablation – using microwaves or radio waves to kill cancerous cells
  • chemotherapy – medicine to destroy the cancer cells

Patient stories

This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.