Diagnosis & staging
Secondary liver cancer is different than cancer that started in the liver (primary liver cancer). For more information: Primary Liver Cancer
Secondary liver cancer is cancer that started in another part of your body and spread to your liver. The original cancer spread through your blood stream or your lymphatic system.
The liver does many things in your body:
- Removes toxins from your blood.
- Makes bile and enzymes to help with digestion.
- Makes proteins that help the blood clot.
- Controls the level of cholesterol in the body.
- Stores glycogen (sugar) which your body uses for energy.
Your liver is your body's largest internal organ. It can weigh up to 1.8 kg (4 pounds).
Your liver is on the upper right side of your abdomen.
Image of liver
- Enlarged liver (liver is larger than normal).
- Hard or tender liver.
- Enlarged spleen.
- Mild pain in the upper right part of your abdomen.
- Pain in right shoulder.
- Weakness in arms and legs.
- Weight loss.
- Loss of appetite.
- Lethargy (lack of energy).
- Jaundice (when the whites of your eyes and your skin turn yellow).
- Ascites (fluid build-up in your abdominal cavity).
- In advanced disease, the liver cannot remove toxins from your blood.
If you have any signs or symptoms that you are worried about, please talk to your family doctor or nurse practitioner.
Tests that may help diagnose secondary liver cancer:
- Biopsy: a surgeon takes a small sample of the tumour. A specialist (pathologist) looks at the sample under a microscope. This will tell us if the cancer is primary or secondary liver cancer. If it is secondary cancer, the cells will look like abnormal cells of the tissue where the cancer started. A biopsy is usually only done for liver cancers that cannot be removed by surgery.
- Imaging tests to see the tumour and if the cancer has spread:
- CT (computed tomography) scan
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
- Ultrasound of the liver
- Abdominal exploratory surgery: when a surgeon looks in your abdomen to see if there is any cancer.
- Alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) blood test: This may be helpful but about 30% (30 out of 100) of people with liver cancer do not have high amounts of AFP in their blood.
more information on tests used to diagnose cancer: BC Cancer Library screening and diagnosis pathfinder.
There is no type or stage for secondary liver cancer. Please read about the type and stage of where your cancer first started.