Cancers That Spread to the Liver

What cancers spread to the liver?

Many cancers can spread to the liver, primarily any of the gastrointestinal tract cancers (such as oesophagus, stomach, colon/rectal, pancreatic), but also other cancers such as breast, melanoma, ovarian, kidney and lung. Various other rarer cancers can also spread to the liver such as Neuroendocrine tumours, Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumours (GIST), or melanoma.

The main cancer that spreads to the liver is bowel cancer; this spreads to the liver in between ¼ to ½ of all patients with bowel cancer. If bowel cancer has spread to the liver it is called metastatic bowel cancer. Bowel cancer refers to any part of the large bowel (colon or rectum), and can spread to other sites in the abdominal cavity outside the liver, or even to the lung or elsewhere. When bowel cancer spreads to another site it is called a colorectal cancer metastasis.

Cancers that have spread to the liver - symptoms

The majority of people don’t display signs and symptoms of liver cancer during the early stages. Cancers that have spread to the liver may be picked up during routine checks following the original cancer type at follow-up appointment with your specialist (for example after bowel cancer surgery) or when blood tests or scans show abnormal results. When symptoms do develop they can include:

  • Jaundice (yellow discolouration of the skin and eyes)
  • Dark urine colour
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pale stool colour
  • Abdominal pain and/or swelling
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms and are concerned, you should make an appointment with your doctor.

Cancers that have spread to the liver - diagnosis

If your doctor suspects you may have a cancer in your liver following a physical exam and a series of tests, you will likely be referred to a specialist who will perform the some or all of the following diagnostic tests:

  • Liver function tests (LFTs)
  • Blood clotting tests
  • Hepatitis tests
  • Ultrasound
  • CT Scan
  • MRI Scan
  • Biopsy & biopsy testing
  • Laparoscopy
  • Gastroscopy or colonoscopy

Cancers that have spread to the liver - treatment

Once diagnosed, your doctor will discuss the best treatment options for your liver cancer. Treatment options will depend on the type of tumour and how far the cancer has spread, while considering your age, fitness and general overall health.

Treatment options may include:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiotherapy (including SIRTEX)
  • Ablation – such as microwave, RFA or IRE. Irreversible electroporation (IRE) is a technique using the NanoKnife system to kill cancer cells at difficult to reach locations while preserving surrounding normal tissues.
Surgery is a potential option for treating these types of cancer, but this depends on the type of tumour that is presenting, whether all of the tumour deposits can be removed, and whether there are no tumour deposits on other organs.
If you would like to make an appointment to discuss liver cancer treatment options please call our practice on (03) 9509 4811 to make an appointment, or you can book an appointment online