Liver metastases are cancerous tumors that have metastasized (spread) from another part of the body to the liver. They can develop shortly after the original tumor develops, or months or years later.
The body’s largest organ, the liver is located below the right lung and is divided into right and left lobes. It is made of cells called hepatocytes and serves to absorb and break down nutrients, make bile (a fluid that helps digest fats), and filter and remove toxic substances from the blood. The liver also produces proteins that help stop bleeding from a cut or injury.
In the United States and Europe, liver metastases are much more common than cancer that starts in the liver (also called primary liver cancer).
Types of Liver Metastases
Most cases of liver metastases develop from colon or rectal cancers. In fact, approximately 60 to 70 percent of people with colorectal cancer eventually develop a liver tumor. This occurs in part because the blood supply from the intestines is connected directly to the liver through a large blood vessel called the portal vein.
Although much less common, cancer in the breast, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, lungs, kidneys, and skin can also spread to the liver. In most cases, liver metastases from these tumors are treated with oral or intravenous chemotherapy. In selected patients an operation or other procedure may be performed to remove or treat the liver metastases.
Many people with liver metastases do not have any symptoms, or experience vague discomforts such as the following:
- general feeling of poor health or weakness
- loss of appetite
- weight loss
- swelling of the legs
- abdominal pain or discomfort