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What Is the Connection between Bowel and Liver Cancer?

By Cindy Quarters
Updated May 17, 2024
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Bowel cancer is cancer that is first discovered in the intestines, or bowels. The cancer can occur in any part of the small or large intestines, and it is usually referred to by the specific area in which it is found, such as cancer of the small intestine or colon cancer. Cancer in the small intestines is rare, with less than 7,000 new cases estimated for 2010, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Colon cancer is much more common, and the NCI estimates that well over 100,000 cases were diagnosed in the same time frame. The connection between bowel and liver cancer is most commonly found with colon cancer specifically, as the tumors that grow there tend to metastasize, or spread, to the liver all too often.

Cancer that has spread from the bowels to the liver is still considered to be bowel cancer. This is important, since chemotherapy and other treatments are based on the original type of cancer and not each individual location where it is found. This means that a person that has liver cancer may actually have metastatic colon cancer on the liver, rather than primary liver cancer. This can be a bit confusing for patients who are newly diagnosed with both bowel and liver cancer, but realizing that the liver cancer has spread from the bowels helps to make it more clear. The doctor will make the determination based on the patient’s history and current condition.

The type of cancer is an important consideration, as it affects decisions about treatment, including the best types of chemotherapy drugs as well as how and when to use radiation therapy, if it is indicated. If bowel and liver cancer are found together, doctors are able to determine where the cancer started based on such factors as tumor size and progression. This is used as a starting point for treatment.

Liver cancer alone is not likely to be related to bowel cancer, as liver cancer does not generally metastasize to the bowel. This type of cancer is known to be caused by the presence of hepatitis, over a long period of time. Other factors such as diabetes, a fatty liver, cirrhosis, and liver disease can also contribute to the presence of primary liver cancer.

Colon polyps that are not removed at an early stage can become cancerous over a period of years. These are easy to remove in the early stages of growth, during the colonoscopy procedure. A sedentary lifestyle, diabetes, a poor diet, and a family history are all risk factors for developing colon cancer. If such cancer does occur, the patient’s risk for developing both bowel and liver cancer increases unless the cancer is dealt with in the early stages. If both types of cancer are present, additional drugs and procedures are usually necessary, but the metastasized cancer can still be successfully treated.

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