Cancerous tumours in the liver that have spread from other parts of the body
Metastases are cancerous tumours in the liver that originate from cancers elsewhere in the body, commonly those of the lung, breast, colon, pancreas, and stomach. Other types of cancer, such as leukaemia and lymphoma, may also spread to the liver. Liver metastases form when cancerous cells separate from the original cancer, circulate in the blood, and settle in the liver, where they multiply. Several metastases of varying size may develop.
In developed countries, liver metastases occur more commonly than liver cancer. The disease is more common in elderly people.
People may already have symptoms due to the original cancer, but sometimes this cancer is not apparent. The symptoms of liver metastases may be the only warning of illness. They include:
Pain in the upper right side of the abdomen.
Yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes (see Jaundice).
As the disease progresses, the abdomen may become swollen due to enlargement of the liver or fluid accumulation.
Anyone who has cancer will have tests, such as ultrasound scanning, CT scanning, or MRI, to find out if the liver is affected. To confirm the diagnosis, a piece of liver tissue may be removed for microscopic examination (see Liver biopsy). Most treatment aims to maintain liver function and relieve symptoms. You may be offered painkillers for pain and chemotherapy or radiotherapy to reduce the size of the metastases. Surgery may be considered if there is a solitary metastasis.
The outlook is poor for most people with liver metastases because by this stage the cancer is usually advanced. Few people survive longer than a year.
From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.