- Secondary liver cancer
Secondary liver cancer
Secondary cancer in the liver is 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.
Learn more about:
What is secondary liver cancer?
Many cancers can spread to the liver. The most common cancer that spreads to the liver is bowel cancer. This is because the blood supply from the 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.
Secondary cancer in the liver may be diagnosed:
- at the same time as the original cancer (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).
The liver is the largest organ inside the body. It is found above the stomach on the right side of the abdomen (belly) under the ribs. The gall bladder sits under the liver, and the pancreas sits under the stomach. These organs are all part of the digestive system. They work together to help the body break down food and turn it into energy.
The digestive system
How the liver works
The liver has two main sections: 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. Blood in the portal vein comes from the digestive organs and carries nutrients and substances such as medicines 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 may be able to repair itself if it is injured. It can continue to function when only a small part is working and may grow back to its normal size in 6–8 weeks, even after a part is removed during surgery.
A substance called bile is made in the liver and stored in the gall bladder. Bile is carried between the liver and gall bladder by a series of tubes called bile ducts. The common bile duct carries bile from the liver and gall bladder to the bowel, where it helps to break down fats from food.
Dr David Yeo, Hepatobiliary/Transplant Surgeon, Royal Prince Alfred, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse Cancer Centre and St George Hospitals, NSW; Dr Lorraine Chantrill, Head of Department Medical Oncology, Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District, NSW; Michael Coulson, Consumer; Dr Sam Davis, Interventional Radiologist, Staff Specialist, Royal Brisbane and Women‘s Hospital, QLD; Prof Chris Karapetis, Network Clinical Director (Cancer Services), Southern Adelaide Local Health Network, Head, Department of Medical Oncology, Flinders Medical Centre and Flinders University, SA; Dr Howard Liu, Radiation Oncologist, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Lina Sharma, Consumer; Dr Graham Starkey, Hepato-Biliary and General Surgeon, Austin Hospital, VIC; Catherine Trevaskis, Gastrointestinal Cancer Specialist Nurse, Canberra Hospital and Health Services, ACT; Dr Michael Wallace, Western Australia Liver Transplant Service, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, WA.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
Click below to download a PDF booklet on this topic.
Coping with cancer?
Speak to a health professional or to someone who has been there, or find a support group or forum
Need legal and financial assistance?
Pro bono services, financial and legal assistance, and no interest loans
Looking for transport, accommodation or home help?
Practical advice and support during and after treatment
What is cancer?
How cancer starts and spreads
Primary liver cancer
Learn what primary liver cancer is, and how it is diagnosed and treated
Dealing with the diagnosis
Common reactions to a cancer diagnosis and how to find hope
View our publications
Guides and fact sheets for people with cancer, their families and friends