What are Liver Metastases?

Mary McMahon

Liver metastases are malignant growths in the liver which spread from somewhere else in the body. Someone with liver metastases does not have liver cancer, she or he has metastatic liver cancer, or secondary cancer of the liver. When cancer metastasizes anywhere, it is a cause for concern, because it means that the cancer is aggressive enough to spread, and that it will probably continue spreading unless it can be arrested. Treatment options for liver metastases vary, depending on their point of origin and a number of other factors.

Liver metastases are malignant growths inside the organ that have spread from other areas of the body.
Liver metastases are malignant growths inside the organ that have spread from other areas of the body.

A number of cancers can spread to the liver. Gastrointestinal cancers commonly work their way into the liver because of their proximity, and lung and breast cancer can also wind up in the liver. Melanoma has also been known to metastasize to the liver. Along the way, these cancers can spread to other cells and regions of the body, causing a variety of symptoms as they attack the body's cells.

Someone with metastatic liver cancer can experience symptoms like weight loss, difficulty eating, and nausea. Not all patients experience symptoms, and sometimes the symptoms are clouded by the original cancer, or by other metastases. Medical imaging studies can be used to reveal growths in the liver, and these growths can be biopsied to find out more about their origins.

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Cancers metastasize because pieces of them break off and enter the bloodstream and lymphatic circulation. When these cancerous cells land in another area of the body, they can start to divide and multiply. The cells will be identical to those in the original cancer; for example, if lung cancer spreads to the liver, when the cancerous cells from the liver are biopsied, they will be lung cancer cells. This is an important trait, because it provides care providers with information about where the cancer originated.

Sometimes, liver metastases are identified during cancer treatment, in which case they are a sign that the treatment is not successful. In other cases, they are spotted at the same time that the primary cancer is identified. Treatment for liver metastases can include chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. When deciding on a treatment approach, factors like the type of cancer and its stage are important to consider. If, for example, a cancer has metastasized through much of the body, aggressive treatment might not buy the patient very much time, and the patient might prefer supportive care to grueling medical treatment.

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