Secondary liver cancer

If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with secondary liver cancer, we can provide the information you need, from understanding the cancer itself, to choosing the right treatment, to finding support.

Secondary liver cancer is different from primary liver cancer. If you're not sure what the difference is or how it affects you, you can call our Cancer Nurseline on 1 800 200 700.

What you should know about secondary liver cancer

  • Secondary cancer of the liver is when cancer cells spread to the liver from somewhere else in the body. For example, the bowel, breast or lung.
  • The main symptoms of secondary liver cancer include weight loss, nausea, tiredness, swelling of your tummy (abdomen), jaundice, high temperatures or sweating.
  • Secondary liver cancer can be diagnosed by a physical exam, liver ultrasound, blood tests, and CT, MRI and PET scans.
  • The main treatments for secondary liver cancer are radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

What is the liver?

The liver is the second largest organ in your body after your skin. It is found below your right lung and behind your lower right ribs. The liver is divided into two lobes: the right and the left. Each lobe is further divided into sections called lobules.

  • The liver is a very important organ and has many roles:
  • It makes proteins that help blood to clot when you cut yourself.
  • It makes other proteins (albumin) needed for fluid balance in your body.
  • It makes cholesterol needed for every cell in your body to grow.
  • It stores and converts carbohydrates and fats into energy.
  • It makes bile that breaks down fats and absorbs them into the body. Bile is stored in the gallbladder, while the bile duct connects the liver to the bowel.
  • It stores glucose and nutrients until the body needs them.
  • It gets rid of substances not needed by your body. These include alcohol, drugs and other waste products.
  • It gets rid of substances not needed by your body. These include alcohol, drugs and other waste products.

What is secondary liver cancer?

Primary cancer is where a cancer first begins. For example, this could be in your breast, lung or bowel. Cancer that begins in your liver is called primary liver cancer. Cancer that spreads to your liver from somewhere else in your body is called secondary liver cancer.

Cancer tumours are made up of millions of cancer cells. Sometimes these cells break away and travel through the bloodstream or lymphatic system to other parts of your body. When these cells group together to form another tumour somewhere else in the body, it is called metastases or a secondary cancer.

How common is secondary liver cancer?

Most liver cancers are secondary liver cancers. Primary liver cancer is very rare. Sometimes secondary liver cancer is diagnosed before the primary cancer is found. The types of cancer that often spread to the liver are:

Cancer publications

For booklets and factsheets, including information about cancer types, treatments, side-effects, emotional effects, financial information and more. Visit our publications section.