Treatment overview

Treatment for secondary cancer in the liver is usually aimed at controlling the cancer for as long as possible and reducing any symptoms.

The treatment you have depends on:

  • where the cancer has spread from (where the primary cancer was)
  • which parts of the liver are affected
  • whether other parts of the body are affected.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is the most common treatment for secondary cancer in the liver. Sometimes chemotherapy is given before liver surgery as it can make the operation more successful. It may also be given after surgery to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back.

Surgery

A small number of people will have surgery. It’s usually only possible for people where the cancer has spread into the liver from cancer in the bowel or a neuroendocrine tumour. However, it may also be an option for other types of cancer.

It’s most commonly used if the cancer cells affect a few areas of the liver and there is no cancer anywhere else in the body. In this situation, it is sometimes possible to cure the cancer.

If the secondary cancer is affecting many areas of the liver, it may not be possible to remove all of the cancer cells with surgery. Surgery is not usually suitable if you have cancer cells in another part of your body, for example, the bones.

Hormonal therapies

Hormonal therapies are sometimes used, usually for a cancer that started in the breast.

Targeted therapies

Targeted therapies are sometimes used to treat secondary cancer in the liver. They may be used with other treatments, such as chemotherapy and surgery.

Ablation

Ablation uses heat to destroy cancer cells. It may be used as a treatment for people with secondary cancer in the liver from the bowel – and occasionally other primary sites – who have already had surgery or who are not fit enough to have surgery.

Embolisation treatments

Embolisation treatments use chemotherapy (chemoembolisation) or radiation (radioembolisation) to cut off the blood supply to the tumour.

Radiotherapy

A type of radiotherapy called stereotactic radiotherapy may sometimes be used.

Supportive or palliative therapies

Some people with secondary liver cancer may not be well enough to have the treatments described above. Others may decide not to have treatment if it’s unlikely to shrink the cancer or has too many side effects. But there are other supportive or palliative therapies that can help to control your symptoms and improve your quality of life. These may also be used alongside other treatments.

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