What is secondary cancer in the liver?

The place where a cancer starts in the body is called the primary cancer. Sometimes cells break away from the primary cancer and are carried in the bloodstream to another part of the body. The cancer cells may settle in that part of the body and form a new tumour. If this happens, it’s called a secondary cancer or a metastasis.

Cancer cells entering the bloodstream
Cancer cells entering the bloodstream

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Secondary cancer in the liver happens when cancer cells spread to the liver from a primary cancer somewhere else in the body.

Any type of cancer can spread to the liver. Common types that do include:

If you have secondary liver cancer, you may find it helpful to read this information together with the information for your primary cancer (where the cancer started).

Usually, people who develop secondary cancer in the liver know they have a primary cancer. Occasionally secondary liver cancer is found before the primary cancer is diagnosed. Sometimes the primary cancer can’t be found and this is called a cancer of unknown primary.

Occasionally cancer can start in the liver; this is known as primary liver cancer. Primary liver cancer is relatively rare while secondary liver cancer is much more common.


The cause of secondary cancer in the liver is always a primary cancer somewhere else in the body.

Back to Understanding secondary liver cancer

The liver

The liver is the largest organ in the body. It carries out important functions.

Why do cancers come back?

Sometimes, tiny cancer cells are left behind after cancer treatment. These can divide to form a new tumour.