Liver Metastases – Causes, Symptoms & Treatment


Liver metastases are metastases or daughter tumors from malignant tumors that are located in other parts of the body. This distinguishes the term from liver carcinoma , which develops directly as a cancerous tumor in the liver.

What are liver metastases?

The term liver metastases describes liver tumors that are metastases from other tumors in the organism. They often develop because of colon cancer . The malignant cancer cells enter the organ via the lymph or blood vessels, multiply and cause liver metastases to develop.

Most liver cancers are secondary liver cancers. Another cancer in the body, the primary cancer, has spread, creating a cancer of the liver. Apart from tumors in the intestine, other types of cancer can also be responsible for this development.

These include stomach or colon cancer, breast cancer and lung cancer . If the causative cancer has metastasized to the liver, the disease is at an advanced stage. How the further course of the disease liver metastases proceeds depends crucially on the primary cancerous tumor.


The causes of liver metastases are different. The affected person often already has a cancerous tumor in the intestine, which triggers secondary liver cancer through the spread of metastases.The classic characteristics of malignant tumors are spread to other tissues and organs and the development of metastases . Secondary tumors in the liver are liver metastases. Almost 45% of all cancer cells in the liver are liver metastases.

Most often they are based on primary tumors in the gastrointestinal tract, which include colon cancer, gastric cancer and esophageal cancer . In isolated cases, other malignant tumors such as ovarian cancer , lung cancer, pancreatic cancer , thyroid cancer , uterine cancer , malignant skin cancer and breast cancer can also be the cause of liver metastases.

Symptoms, Ailments & Signs

At the beginning of the disease, there are usually no health problems. Complaints such as nausea and loss of appetite or the characteristic pressure pain in the upper right abdomen only appear with the growth of the liver metastases . Occasionally, a palpable swelling can be noticed under the costal arch.

This feels noticeably hard and hurts when touched. This can be accompanied by general symptoms of illness such as fever and tiredness . Those affected usually lose weight and in the later stages of the disease have a sickly appearance, which is manifested by pale skin and sunken eye sockets, among other things.

Bile congestion can also occur as a result of the tumors . This manifests itself through typical symptoms of jaundice , but can also lead to a strong feeling of illness. In the most severe cases, liver metastases cause serious functional disorders of the liver , which can ultimately result in organ failure. The symptoms of liver metastases usually develop insidiously and can appear over a period of months or years. If there is no treatment, the symptoms lead to symptoms throughout the body and ultimately to the death of the patient.

Diagnosis & History

If there is a suspicion of liver metastases , various examinations are carried out on the person concerned. These metastases often lead to liver damage, which can be detected by a liver function test or a blood test .

Other diagnostic methods for detecting cancerous tumors are ultrasound, CT and magnetic resonance imaging of the liver. A biopsy or an examination of the fine tissue can confirm the diagnosis. If it is not known where the tumor came from, further examinations of the organism are carried out. This can be a colonoscopy , for example , since colorectal cancer is the most common cause of liver metastases.

The further course of the disease and life expectancy depend on the underlying disease. It is also crucial how heavily the liver is already permeated by metastases. Individual metastases can be easily removed by a surgeon, giving them the best prognosis. The chances of recovery decrease rapidly with a larger extent of the liver metastases.


As a rule, the liver metastases lead to the death of the patient. In this case, treatment is only possible to a limited extent, so that the life expectancy of the person affected is significantly reduced and restricted by the disease. The patients primarily suffer from a severe loss of appetite and thus also from a significant loss of weight.It is also not uncommon for vomiting and permanent nausea to occur. The loss of appetite also causes various deficiency symptoms that have a negative impact on the patient’s health. The liver problems usually lead to jaundice and severe abdominal pain. In most cases, liver metastases also lead to sweating at night and thus to a significant reduction in the quality of life of those affected.

In many cases, liver metastases can no longer be treated. Those affected suffer death. The course also depends strongly on the primary cancer, which is why it cannot generally be predicted. Furthermore, many patients are also dependent on chemotherapy, which is usually associated with side effects.

When should you go to the doctor?

If you have pain in your upper body that is at the level of your stomach or in the area of ​​your ribs, as well as swelling, you should be examined by a doctor. In particular, changes in the right upper abdomen should be presented to a doctor. If pain spreads or increases in intensity, a doctor is needed. If there is a loss of appetite, an unwanted weight loss or a reduction in the usual level of performance, the changes are considered worrying. Yellowing of the face, eyes or skin should be reported to a doctor. The abnormalities of the skin indicate a disturbance in liver activity, which should be examined.

Increased tiredness, inner weakness, general malaise and apathy are signs of an existing disease. A doctor should be consulted as soon as the symptoms persist or increase for several weeks. A change in the usual memory performance, abnormalities in mood and sleep disorders should be discussed with a doctor. Since patients with liver metastases can have a fatal course of the disease without early treatment, it is advisable to see a doctor as soon as possible when the first irregularities appear. In addition, every adult should take part in medical check-ups and check-ups that are offered, so that in the event of illness, early detection and quick diagnosis is possible.

Treatment & Therapy

The treatment of liver metastases depends on the number of metastases. In principle, there are different therapeutic approaches. Curative treatment aims to cure the disease. If the chances of this are hopeless, palliative therapy is considered. This should alleviate the symptoms and improve the quality of life.

Individual metastases can be removed by surgery. In this surgical intervention, the doctor completely removes the liver metastases from the tissues of the organ. Sometimes removal of part of the liver is also required. If there are only a few liver foci in the organ, so-called local therapy methods can be used as an alternative or in addition to surgery. These enable direct and targeted combating of the malignant tissue.

Furthermore, the healthy tissue surrounding the tumor is largely spared. The methods of local therapy procedures include cryotherapy , which is also known under the term freezing. Other procedures include interstitial laser coagulation , percutaneous ethanol injection and radio-frequency ablation . If palliative treatment was chosen, surgery was no longer possible due to the large variance. However , chemotherapy for liver metastases may prove life-prolonging.

Outlook & Forecast

In normal cases, liver metastases have an unfavorable disease course and therefore a poor prognosis. The more advanced the disease, the worse the chances of recovery. Without medical treatment, the cancer cells spread further in the body via the blood system. Further metastases form and the cancer spreads.

As the disease progresses, multiple organ failure occurs, leading to premature death. If the metastases in the liver can be completely surgically removed, the prognosis improves. If the cancer has not spread further in the organism, this is also a positive circumstance for further development.

Cancer therapy is associated with numerous risks and limitations in quality of life. Nevertheless, it currently represents the best option for successfully managing liver metastases. If the liver is already severely affected by metastases, an organ transplant can help under certain circumstances. If the patient’s immune system is stable and no further metastases have developed in the human body, a donor organ can contribute significantly to the prospect of a cure. If the difficult surgical procedure goes without complications and if the body accepts the new liver well, this can lead to a recovery of the patient.


There are no special measures to prevent liver metastases . In general, a healthy lifestyle can reduce the risk of developing cancer. This includes a low-fat, varied diet and avoiding nicotine and alcohol . The personal body defenses can also be strengthened by regular physical activity, which reduces the chance of developing liver metastases.


Follow-up care is necessary after every cancer diagnosis. The type of treatment required depends on the outcome of the initial therapy. If the liver metastases cannot be removed at all, not completely or insufficiently, the follow-up care consists mainly of palliative aspects. The aim is to accompany the patient until the end of his life in such a way that he feels little or no discomfort.

In addition to providing medication, the doctor can also prescribe psychotherapy or refer patients to pastoral staff to discuss life issues. If the metastases can be removed, life expectancy increases. Doctors then try to realize this positive prospect as part of the aftercare. This is done by monitoring to treat new growths as early as possible. Initially, there are scheduled follow-up visits every few months.

Then the distance between the appointments widens. If there are no new cases after the fifth year, annual follow-up is sufficient. The attending physician agrees a detailed examination plan with his patient. He also provides information about other therapy options and medication to be taken. Sometimes a rehabilitation measure can be useful after an operation. An examination usually includes a detailed physical examination, an ultrasound scan, an X-ray and a blood draw.

You can do that yourself

Patients with liver metastases have been suffering from cancer for a long time. In most cases, they are undergoing cancer therapy and their health is severely affected. In everyday life, it is particularly important for these patients not to lose their will to face life. They should push themselves every day to do as many different activities as possible according to their individual physical capabilities.

Motivational measures are meaningful and should be applied. In addition to mental coaching, methods such as yoga or meditation can help . These strengthen the emotional state of the patient and help reduce stress. In addition, good nutrition is of particular importance. Meals should be rich in vitamins and balanced, since the weakened physical condition means that pathogens can get into the organism more quickly. The immune system can be supported by the food intake in order to have sufficient defenses available.

Leisure activities help to improve well-being. A close exchange should take place with friends or relatives so that participation in social life is guaranteed. Conversations with other people are important and helpful to reduce fears or to distract oneself from one’s own situations. In self-help groups or in direct contact with other patients, open questions can be clarified or tips can be given to improve the quality of life.

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Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.