Many of the major blood vessels pass behind or through the liver, essentially connecting it to the heart. Additional care must be taken during surgery because the liver can tear easily and bleed a lot when injured.
Surgery to remove metastatic liver tumors presents a number of challenges. We have a team of surgeons at Memorial Sloan Kettering who focus on doing this type of operation.
Our surgeons are among the leaders in the field at this type of procedure, which has become much safer recently due to improved imaging techniques and advances in surgical techniques.
Each year, the surgeons at MSK operate on several hundred patients with liver metastases. Our surgeons, along with our interventional radiologists, have developed and refined several of the techniques that produce better results, including ones that minimize blood loss and the need for transfusions during an operation.
We’ve led the way in proving that surgically removing a limited number of liver tumors may add years to life. In particular, liver surgery for people with colorectal cancer that’s spread to the liver has become safe and effective even for metastatic disease. Our surgical advances have led to long-term survival rates not seen before.
Minimally Invasive Surgery
The researchers and surgeons at MSK developed and continue to enhance minimally invasive techniques (laparoscopic and robotic) and imaging approaches used during operations. These innovations have increased treatment options for people with liver metastases.
When possible, our surgeons use techniques that leave more of the healthy liver intact. This reduces the risk of complications and the need for the liver to grow back.
For certain people, minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery can significantly reduce the time it takes to recover from an operation. In this procedure, surgeons insert a thin, lighted tube with a camera on its tip (a laparoscope) through a tiny abdominal incision (cut). The surgeon then guides surgical instruments through the laparoscope to remove tumors or, in some cases, part of the liver. Our surgeons also use minimally invasive robotic surgery to remove part of the liver.
Surgery for People with Colon or Rectal Liver Metastases
For people with liver metastases from tumors in the colon or rectum, our surgeons can often remove tumors in both places during the same operation. This can be a good approach when there are just a few small tumors in the liver.
Your treatment team often combines this approach with chemotherapy. This approach can significantly reduce complications and recovery time. Studies suggest that up to half of all people who have colorectal liver metastases survive for at least five years after this treatment.