If Cancer Spreads to the Liver

When cancer has spread to the liver from other cancers it is called liver metastases. This means that cancerous tumors have spread to the liver from somewhere else in the body.  Some of these cancer types or other areas of the body may include:

  • Bladder cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Neuroendocrine cancer
  • Cervical cancer
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • GIST
  • Kidney cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Melanomas
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Prostate cancer


The risk of cancer spreading to the liver depends on the site of the original cancer. Liver metastasis may be present when the original (primary) cancer is diagnosed, or it may occur months or even years after the primary tumor is removed.

In many cases, there are no symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they may include:

  • confusion
  • fevers
  • jaundice
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea
  • pain in the upper right part of the abdomen
  • referred pain to the shoulder blade
  • sweats
  • weight loss


Treatment for liver tumors that have spread from other cancers depends on a number of factors such as the primary cancer site, the number of tumors in your liver, the size of the tumors, location of tumors within the liver, whether or not the cancer has spread to other organs besides your liver, and your overall health. When deciding on treatment, it is important to have a multidisciplinary team evaluate your condition and provide input. A number of treatment options exist and it is crucial to develop a care plan as you beat liver tumors. You will want a surgeon to evaluate the possibility of a liver resection or transplant (for primary liver cancer or neuroendocrine cancers), an oncologist to discuss systemic treatments, a radiologist and an interventional radiologist who can discuss targeted liver directed therapies.

When liver tumors progress, complications can occur.  These complications may include blockage of the flow of bile, decreased appetite, fever, liver failure, pain, and weight loss.

A diagnosis of liver tumors, whether primary or metastatic, is extremely frightening.  Gaining knowledge about your own disease status helps empower you and your family members as you approach treatment.  You are your own best advocate!


Treatment for liver metastases is usually based on the main type of cancer (primary site) the person has. Treatment may include chemotherapy, immunotherapy or radiation therapy, or a combination of these.

Surgery, and even transplant for metastatic colorectal and metastatic neuroendocrine cancer, may be an option if there are a small number of liver metastases and there are no metastases in other parts of the body. Also, surgery would only be used if the main cancer is under control.