Interventional Oncology

Liver cancer and metastasis

What is liver metastasis?

A liver metastasis is a cancerous tumor that has spread to the liver from a cancer that started in another place in the body. It is also called secondary liver cancer. Most of the time, cancer in the liver is secondary, or metastatic.

The cancer cells found in a metastatic liver tumor are not liver cells. They are the cells from the part of the body where the primary cancer began (for example, cancerous breast, colon, or lung cells).

Transcatheter Arterial Chemo-Embolisation (TACE) therapy is a palliative procedure offered to patients with liver carcinoma (cancer) or liver metastatic colorectal carcinoma who are not eligible for surgery, but have adequate functional liver reserves for the potential benefits to outweigh procedure related risks.

Selective Internal Radiation Therapy (SIRT) is a procedure for oncology (cancer) patients to treat liver tumours using tiny radioactive beads. After SIRT, most patients see a reduction or stabilisation of their liver tumours. Having this treatment can increase survival time, but is not a permanent cure.

What is the function of the liver?

The liver is the largest organ inside the body, and it is vital to life. To understand liver metastasis, it’s important to understand the role of the liver in your body. The liver is divided into two lobes and is located under the right ribcage and lung.

The role of the liver is to:

  • cleanse the blood of toxins
  • produce bile, which helps digest fat
  • make many types of proteins used throughout the body for fuel and cell regeneration
  • make enzymes that initiate and participate in numerous body metabolic functions
  • store glycogen (sugar), which the body uses for energy

It is impossible to live without a functioning liver. The liver is one of the most important organs in the body.

What are the symptoms of liver metastasis?

In the early stages of liver metastasis there may be no symptoms. The cancer can cause the liver to swell or obstruct the normal flow of blood and bile in later stages.

When this happens, the following symptoms may occur:

  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • dark-colored urine
  • abdominal swelling or bloating
  • jaundice, a yellowing of the skin or the whites of the eyes
  • pain in the right shoulder
  • pain in the upper right abdomen
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • confusion
  • sweats and fever
  • enlarged liver

When the liver is enlarged, a lump can be felt on the right side of the abdomen below the ribcage.