Secondary liver cancer is the cancer that originates in other parts of the body and then spreads to the liver. Liver cancer usually produces some vague symptoms. This article mainly dwells on the signs and symptoms of secondary liver cancer, along with its treatment.
Secondary liver cancer does not originate in the liver; rather it originates in other parts of the body, like the lungs, gastrointestinal tract, pancreas, stomach, or the lymphatic system, and then spreads to the liver.
A primary cancer is caused by the uncontrolled growth of the malignant cells, which causes the development of tumors. But secondary cancer is caused by the cancerous cells that break away from the primary tumors, enter the bloodstream or the lymphatic system, and then eventually spread to other parts of the body.
Cancer that originates in other parts of the body can easily spread to the liver, as it is the organ responsible for filtering blood coming from different organs. Along with filtering blood, this vital organ is responsible for producing bile for digesting fats, removing drugs and alcohol from blood, storing excess glucose as glycogen, and producing several types of proteins and enzymes. Cancer that originates in the breast, bowel, pancreas, lung, kidney, stomach, uterus, or the ovary can spread to the liver. Sometimes, liver metastases can occur even when the primary cancer is removed.
✦ A vague discomfort in the upper right part of the abdomen
✦ Loss of appetite
✦ Weight loss
✦ Nausea and vomiting
✦ Feeling sick
✦ Unusual fatigue
✦ A swollen abdomen
✦ Jaundice or yellowing of the skin and the white portion of the eye
Due to the absence of any specific symptom, liver cancer is difficult to diagnose. Physicians usually suspect liver cancer when the liver is found to be enlarged. Blood tests are conducted to find out the level of alkaline phosphate, an abnormal level of which can indicate liver cancer. Liver function test is carried out to look for the levels of liver enzymes and certain proteins.
Apart from these, liver scan, ultrasound or sonography, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and CT scan of the liver and the abdomen are carried out to ensure the proper diagnosis of this condition. Sometimes, a liver biopsy can also be required for a confirmed diagnosis.
The choice of a particular treatment option is governed by the age and overall health of the patient, location of the primary cancer, and the size and location of metastatic tumors. However, in many instances, the origin of the primary tumor cannot be determined, and only the metastases can be found. In such a situation, physicians try to discover the type of cell the cancer developed from. This helps them choose the most effective treatment plan. The most commonly used treatment options for secondary liver cancer are explained below.
Chemotherapy is the preferred option for treating secondary liver cancer. In chemotherapy, some specific drugs or chemotherapy agents are used to destroy the cancerous cells, and thus, shrink the tumors. Chemotherapy is sometimes used before surgery to shrink the tumors, so that they can be removed easily. Occasionally, it can be used after surgery as well. Chemotherapy is effective in prolonging the lifespan of the patient, but it cannot cure the disease.
If the tumors are localized and are less in number, liver surgery can be performed. Surgery is effective when the cancer cells or tumors affect a few areas of the liver. If a large part of the liver is affected, it may not be possible to remove all the cancerous tumors with surgery. In such a situation, physicians can opt for other treatment options instead of surgery, or surgery can be carried out along with other treatments.
This technique employs radio waves to destroy cancer cells. This method is usually employed when a patient has already undergone surgery, or he or she is not fit to have surgery. Radiofrequency ablation is usually used when the cancer originates in the bowel and then spread to the liver.
Radiotherapy is usually used for alleviating the painful symptoms produced by this condition. It can help relieve the pain and discomfort produced by liver cancer.
Sometimes, hormonal therapies are also used, especially when the cancer originates in the breast and then spreads to the liver. Hormonal therapies can slow down the growth of malignant cells, and providing relief from the symptoms of secondary liver cancer.
Also known as biological therapies, these are sometimes combined with chemotherapy and surgery to treat secondary liver cancer, especially when the cancer spreads from the bowel and the breast. There are several types of targeted therapies. Targeted therapies usually target the specific proteins found in the cancer cells, by using monoclonal antibodies and cancer growth inhibitors.
Secondary liver cancer is difficult to cure. The treatment options available for this cancer basically aim at prolonging the lifespan of the patient and improving the symptoms. Any discomfort in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen usually indicates liver disease, including cancer. So, if you experience discomfort in the upper right abdomen continuously, along with loss of appetite, consider to get the condition properly evaluated with the help of an experienced physician.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for professional medical advice.