Secondary liver cancer

Secondary liver cancer

What is secondary liver cancer?

Secondary cancer in the liver is a cancer that started in another part of the body, but has now spread (metastasised) to the liver. This means it is advanced cancer. Secondary cancer in the liver is much more common than primary liver cancer in Australia.

Secondary cancer in the liver may be diagnosed:

  • at the same time as the original cancer (called the primary cancer)
  • soon after the primary cancer is found
  • months or years after the primary cancer has been treated
  • before the primary cancer is found
  • when tests can’t find where the cancer started – this is known as cancer of unknown primary (CUP).

If you have secondary cancer in the liver, it may be useful to read about primary liver cancer or CUP.

Many cancers can spread to the liver. The most likely cancer to spread to the liver is bowel cancer. This is because the blood supply from the small bowel is connected to the liver through the portal vein. Melanoma and cancer in the breast, oesophagus, stomach, pancreas, ovary, kidney or lung can also spread to the liver.


The liver

The liver is the largest organ inside the body. It is part of the digestive system and is found next to the stomach on the right side of the abdomen under the ribs. The gall bladder sits under the liver, and the pancreas sits under the stomach. These organs work together to help the body process food.

The digestive system

The digestive system

How the liver works

The two main sections of the liver are the right and left lobes. Blood flows into the liver from the hepatic artery and the portal vein. Blood in the hepatic artery comes from the heart and carries oxygen, while blood in the portal vein comes from the stomach and carries nutrients and substances such as medicines or alcohol to the liver.

The liver does many important jobs. These include:

  • breaking down drugs and alcohol, and getting rid of toxins
  • producing bile to help dissolve fat so it can be easily digested
  • storing and releasing sugars (glucose) as needed
  • storing nutrients
  • making proteins to help blood clot and to balance fluid in the body.

Unlike other internal organs, a healthy liver can usually repair itself if injured. It can continue to function even when only a small part is working and may grow back to its normal size in 6–8 weeks.

Bile is made in the liver and stored in the gall bladder. A series of tubes called bile ducts carry bile between the liver and gall bladder. The common bile duct carries bile from the liver and gall bladder to the bowel, where it helps to break down fats.


This information was last reviewed in June 2018
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