Liver Metastases: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Outlook

Liver metastases are cancerous tumors that have spread to the liver from another part of the body where the cancer started. Some doctors call liver metastases “secondary liver cancer”. Cancer cells that grow into liver metastases are not liver cells. These are cells from the part of the body where the cancer first developed.

Because the cancerous tumors have spread to the liver from another part of the body, the doctor may call the liver metastases stage 4, or advanced cancer. Primary liver cancer is less common than liver metastases. In general, people with primary liver cancer have risk factors such as cirrhosis or hepatitis.


The early stages of liver metastases may not have noticeable symptoms. However, as the tumor in the liver progresses, the liver may swell. This swelling can cause obstruction in the flow of blood and bile. When this happens, a person may experience symptoms such as:

– weight loss
– dark urine
– loss of appetite
– abdominal bloating
– jaundice, or yellowing of the skin and eyes
– nausea and vomiting
– enlarged liver
– pain in the right shoulder
– pain in the upper right part of the abdomen
– confusion
– fever
– tired
– sweat
A person with cancer in another area of ​​the body who notices new symptoms should tell their doctor as soon as possible.


If a person has symptoms of liver cancer, a doctor may suspect the presence of liver metastases. After carrying out an initial examination and asking a few questions, he will have to carry out tests to confirm the presence of liver cancer.

Here are some of the tests they can perform:

– CT scan of the abdomen
– liver function tests, which check the proper functioning of the liver
– an ultrasound of the liver
– a laparoscopy, during which a doctor uses a flexible tube to perform a biopsy of the liver
– an angiography, during which a doctor uses a dye to make high-contrast images of the liver
– an MRI examination

Treatment of common types of liver metastases

Treatment for liver metastases usually aims to alleviate symptoms and increase life expectancy. In most cases, there is no way to cure liver metastases. There are two approaches to treating liver metastases: local and systematic. A person’s age and general state of health determine the approach the doctor can offer.

Here are some local treatment options:

Radiofrequency ablation: High-frequency electrical currents that create enough heat to kill cancer cells.

Radiation therapy: Doctors target tumors with a beam of rays or give the rays by injection.

Systematic treatments can target cancer throughout the body via the bloodstream. Here are some possible options for liver metastases:

Biological response modifier therapy: This treatment helps strengthen the body’s immune system.

Chemotherapy: Drugs are used to target fast-growing cells throughout the body.

Hormone therapy: This targets cancers that depend on hormones to grow, such as breast cancer.

Targeted therapy: It directly targets cancer cells.
Treatment will also depend on where the primary cancer is, the size and number of tumors on the liver, and any previous treatments the person has tried.

Prospects and life expectancy

The life expectancy and outlook for people with liver metastases is generally poor because the cancer tends not to be curable. However, treatments can help shrink the tumour, improve life expectancy and relieve symptoms. The 5-year survival rates depend on the origin of the cancer. Other factors include gender, age and general health of the individual. The 5-year survival rate for people with liver metastases from colorectal cancer is 11% with treatment. Without treatment, life expectancy is 8 months. A doctor can offer a life expectancy prediction that takes into account a person’s specific circumstances. In any case, survival rates are estimates only. A person can live much longer or shorter than expected.


Many cancers can spread to the liver over time. A person may have acute symptoms that indicate they need to see a doctor right away.

Some of these symptoms are as follows

– frequent vomiting, or vomiting two or more times a day for more than a day
– unusual swelling of the legs or abdomen
– difficulty swallowing
– bloody vomiting
– jaundice
– black saddles
– unexplained weight loss

Liver metastases are a complication of more advanced cancers. They indicate that the cancer has spread from one area to another. Liver metastases are more common with the following types of cancer:

ovarian cancer
breast cancer
esophageal cancer
Colon Cancer
kidney cancer
rectal cancer
lung cancer
endometrial cancer
stomach cancer
pancreatic cancer
skin cancer

Liver metastases can occur years after successful treatment of the primary cancer. A person should have regular checkups to make sure they don’t have cancer.
She should also know the signs of liver metastases and tell her doctor if she has any of these symptoms.


It is not always possible to prevent liver metastases. Liver metastases occur when cancer has spread to the liver from another area of ​​the body. In some cases, this can happen before the person is diagnosed with primary cancer. In other cases, it takes months or years for the cancer to spread to the liver.
Treating primary cancer can help reduce the risk of cancer spreading. However, this is not a guarantee, as liver metastases can develop years after successful treatment.

People should follow healthy living guidelines to help prevent cancer. Behaviors to avoid include excessive alcohol consumption and smoking. People should maintain a moderate weight through diet and exercise.

Also, early detection of any type of cancer often gives the best chance of successful treatment. A person should have regular checkups and discuss any unusual symptoms with their doctor.

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