- Guidelines for treating this cancer have been developed by various BC Cancer Agency Tumour groups, depending on where the cancer originated.
- For health professional information on treating cancer, please see our Cancer Management Guidelines.
- Secondary liver cancer is also called metastatic liver cancer.
- Secondary liver cancer is cancer that has started in another part of the body and has spread to the liver through the blood stream or the lymphatic system. This is a system by which lymphatic vessels carry lymph throughout the body.
- For cancer that began in the liver please refer to the separate information page about primary liver cancer.
- The liver is the body's largest solid internal organ and can weigh up to four pounds.
- It is situated in the upper right side of the abdomen.
- The liver removes toxins from the blood, produces bile and enzymes to help with digestion, makes proteins that help the blood clot, controls the level of cholesterol in the body, and stores glycogen (sugar) which the body uses for energy.
What causes it and who gets it?
Listed below are some of the known risk factors for this cancer. Not all of the risk factors below may cause this cancer, but they may be contributing factors.
- Secondary liver cancer is caused by the spread of the primary cancer through the blood or the lymphatic system.
- Cancer easily spreads to the liver because the liver is responsible for filtering most of the blood to other organs.
- Half of all cancers may eventually spread to the liver. It is one of the most common sites for metastatic cancer.
- Cancers of the eye, stomach, pancreas, esophagus, lung, colon, breast and melanoma almost always spread to the liver if not stopped in their earlier stages.
- The cancer cells that have spread to the liver look like and behave the same as cells from where the cancer started.
Can I help to prevent it?
There is no known method of preventing secondary liver cancer.
Screening for this cancer
Early detection is important but it is difficult to diagnose secondary liver cancer because there are many non-specific symptoms associated with it.
Signs and Symptoms
- Enlarged liver
- Hard or tender liver
- Enlarged spleen
- Discomfort in the upper right part of the abdomen
- Pain in right shoulder
- Weakness in arms and legs
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Ascites (fluid build-up in the abdominal cavity)
- In advanced disease the liver fails to eliminate toxic materials from the blood.