How Liver Metastasis Is Treated

Liver cancer, artwork
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Liver metastasis is cancer that has spread to the liver from the site of the original tumor—often the colon, rectum, breast, or kidney. Also called metastatic liver cancer or secondary liver cancer, this disease is considered advanced cancer. For that reason, treatment options are limited. They include chemotherapy, surgery to remove the tumor, and a procedure called radiofrequency ablation which destroys cancerous lesions. If none of these treatments is an option, palliative care may be necessary.

Surgeries and Specialist-Driven Procedures

Liver metastasis requires immediate attention. An oncologist will consider in numerous factors when developing a treatment approach for someone newly diagnosed with metastatic liver cancer:

  • The stage and grade of the cancer
  • Age
  • Generally health status
  • The number and location of tumors in the liver
  • The health of unaffected areas of the liver
  • The location of veins or arteries in relation to the liver
  • The approaches used to treat the primary cancer (chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery)


Advancements in chemotherapeutics, along with clinical trials showing their efficacy, have made many new courses of treatment possible. For liver metastases related to colorectal cancer, for instance, three chemotherapy options include cytotoxic chemotherapy, angiogenesis inhibitors, and epidermal growth factor inhibitors. A technique called hepatic arterial infusion delivers chemotherapy drugs directly to the liver tumors instead of passing the drugs through the patient's entire system by IV.

Surgical Removal

The surgical removal of a liver tumor is called a hepatic resection. Advances in imaging and surgical techniques have made this option increasingly available. Many factors need to be considered regarding the safety and feasibility of resection for each patient. For instance, the quantity and health of the portions of the patient's liver that would remain after surgery must be substantial enough to function.

Radiofrequency Ablation

Radiofrequency ablation (also called RFA) is a procedure sometimes used to destroy lesions in the liver if surgical resection is not an option. It is a relatively low-risk and minimally invasive procedure that can be completed through the skin (percutaneous) or during surgery. A needle or probe creates heat through radiofrequency, which in turn heats and destroys cancer cells. The objective of RFA in the case of liver metastasis is to destroy the cancerous tissue while leaving the healthy tissue intact. Due to many factors, only about 10% to 25% of patients with liver metastases are able to undergo radiofrequency ablation. It is a more usual treatment option for those patients with early-stage metastasis.

Selective Internal Radiation Therapy

Combining radiation therapy with embolization, this treatment involves a doctor injecting tiny radioactive particles into the hepatic artery in order to restrict the blood supply to tumors.

Palliative Treatments

If your doctor has decided you are not a candidate for the above treatments, he or she may encourage palliative treatment measures to increase your comfort and survival. Commonly, the fluid build-up and swelling in your abdomen causes discomfort and can be drained using ultrasound-guided removal. The procedure, called a paracentesis or abdominal tap, requires a needle to drain the excess fluids. The fluid will re-accumulate, so the procedure may need to be repeated every few weeks or months.

Palliative radiation and palliative chemotherapy can also be used to control the growth and spread of liver metastasis.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine

The efficacy of herbal compounds such as curcumin, resveratrol, and Chinese herbs have been studied in cases of primary liver cancer. Often, natural approaches to cancer treatment are studied for efficacy in conjunction with conventional approaches such as surgery and chemotherapy.

A Word from VeryWell

If you have already been battling cancer, a diagnosis of liver metastasis can feel overwhelming and disheartening. But thanks to advances in the field of oncology, treatment options are numerous and patients with liver metastasis experience better outcomes than in past decades. To improve your outcome, it's important to seek prompt care and follow your doctor's treatment plan.

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Article Sources

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