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What Is Metastatic Liver Cancer?
The liver is the biggest organ in the body. It’s important to take care of it since it plays several critical functions, including absorbing and breaking down nutrients, producing a fluid for digestion known as bile, and filtering blood from toxic substances.
One of the most common diseases with disruption of liver functions is liver cancer. It’s the 5th most occurring cancer for men and 9th in women. Cancer can be categorized into primary and secondary liver cancer.
According to studies, more people experience secondary or metastatic liver tumors than primary tumors. Metastatic liver cancer, also known as hepatic metastatic cancer (liver Mets), is a tumor that spreads to the liver from other parts of the body. They can shortly appear after the original tumor develops.
Metastatic Liver Cancer Symptoms
Recognizing the symptoms of liver Mets can be difficult. At the start of the medical condition, there can be no observable symptoms. But later, the liver will not function well and becomes swollen. When this happens, here are the symptoms you can experience:
- Feeling weak
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Fever and fatigue
- Dark urine
- Edema or swollen legs
- Jaundice or when skin becomes yellow
If you’re experiencing the symptoms above, it’s best to seek medical attention as soon as possible to prevent further complications. Here are more critical symptoms that show you need to go to the doctor immediately:
- Frequent vomiting
- Blood in vomit
- Sudden weight loss
- A lump can be observed near the abdomen
Causes of Metastatic Liver Cancer
Metastasis means the spread of cancer Mets to the liver. Metastasis liver cancer occurs from colorectal cancer and then develops as liver metastasis. This occurrence is highly possible since the portal vein in the liver is directly connected to the intestines. But you can develop the condition from the following cancers:
- Breast cancer
- Skin cancer
- Lung cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Esophageal cancer
- Stomach cancer
- Kidney cancer
Liver Cancer Risk Factors
What increases an individual’s chances of acquiring this disease? Some risk factors are listed below:
- Obesity. Studies show that a high body mass index (BMI) paired with a wide waist measurement increases the risk of liver cancer by 21%. The more obese a person is, the higher the risk.
- Type 2 Diabetes. As a result of obesity, individuals with Type 2 Diabetes are 2-3x more prone to hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the most common liver cancer type.
- Gender. Men are most likely to developing HCC, no matter what race or ethnicity. This is because men are more likely to drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes.
- Ethnicity. Pacific Islanders and Asians have the highest rates of liver cancer. They also make up half of the population of those infected with Hepatitis B.
- Alcohol Consumption. Burdening the liver with regular, heavy drinking will make it inflamed and scarred. Alcohol intake is a leading cause of HCC. However, non-drinkers with a fatty liver still have an increased risk of having liver cancer.
- Cigarette Use. Smoking involves chemicals that can lead to oncogenes or genes that potentially cause cancer. This then increases the danger of HCC. This risk factor is not only for liver cancer; it can also lead to mouth and throat, stomach, and colon cancer, among others.
- Cirrhosis. When damaged liver cells get replaced by scar tissue, cirrhosis happens. Livers with cirrhosis comprise 70% to 90% of all liver cancer cases in the US.
- Primary Biliary Cirrhosis. The gradual destruction of bile ducts is the reason for this chronic illness. It’s an autoimmune disease where victims don’t experience symptoms until the damage is already severe.
- Hereditary Hemochromatosis. A genetic disorder that can be prevented if a patient’s family history of hemochromatosis is known. Early detection is important to prevent organ damage and even death.
- Hepatitis B or C Infections. Both Hepatitis B or C is transmissible through body fluids (saliva, blood, semen, vaginal secretions). This can happen through unprotected sex or being injected with infected syringes, sharing nail clippers, razors, or even toothbrushes. Sharing straws and pipes with an infected individual can also easily transmit the virus.
How and Where Does Liver Cancer Spread?
The cells in the body have a system of growth and division where new cells replace old cells as they die. However, cancer cells don’t follow this system. Instead, they continue to reproduce even though old cells don’t die. The uncontrolled growth of cancer cells forms a tumor in the organ affected by the cells and continues to spread locally or to other body parts.
Liver cancer can spread in nearby tissues. They can also be transported to the lymph nodes and quickly spread to other parts of the body. When the cancer cells reach the blood vessels, they can be carried to the circulatory system, and the heart’s function can be affected.
Diagnosis of Metastatic Liver Cancer
It’s necessary to consult a physician when the symptoms listed above are experienced. If the disease is suspected to be liver metastasis, the doctor will administer liver tests. However, the results are not accurate for the cancer diagnosis. Thus, the following diagnostic tests are performed:
- CT (Computed Tomography) scan with contrast – A cross-sectional image of the liver with a dye highlighting the organ during examination for a detailed disease diagnosis. You will lie in a tunnel-like machine for the x-ray scan.
- MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) with contrast – Produces detailed images of the liver. You will lie down inside the tube during the scan.
- Biopsy – Most typical way of a cancer diagnosis. Tissue from the body will be removed, and a doctor will analyze it through a microscope.
Staging the Cancer
Metastatic liver tumor doesn’t damage the liver immediately, and it goes through several stages. However, it’s best to have checkups with your physician before more complications can happen.
Here are the stages of cancer:
- Stage 1– A tumor hasn’t grown into any blood vessels, lymph nodes, or sites near the liver.
- Stage 2– Several tumors have grown in the blood vessels smaller than 5cm but didn’t spread in the lymph nodes or any other sites.
- Stage 3– A tumor or several tumors have grown more than 5cm in size but didn’t spread in the lymph nodes or any body parts. For severe Stage 3, the tumor grows into the portal or hepatic vein, which is responsible for the oxygen exchange in the heart.
- Stage 4 – The cancer cells have spread to the lymph nodes and other parts of the body.
Metastatic Liver Cancer Treatment Options
Treatments offered for liver metastasis depend on the diagnosis and stage of cancer. Here are some of the most common treatments offered:
- Chemotherapy – This option utilizes drugs to kill cancer cells. It works by stopping cancer cells from growing and dividing.
- Radiation Therapy – Uses high doses of radiation to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors.
- Ablation Therapy – Application of very hot or cold temperatures to destroy tumors. The procedure can be done without open surgery.
- Embolization – Blocks the flow of blood to a tumor. Embolic substances are introduced to the blood vessel through a catheter.
- Biological Response Modifier Therapy – Boosts your immune system to fight cancer cells.
- Targeted Surgery – A procedure done by cutting the small portion of the liver affected by the cancer cells to avoid spreading more on the organ and the body.
- Liver Transplant – Removes the diseased liver and replaces it with a healthy liver from a donor with open surgery.
Metastatic Cancer Survival Rate
The liver cancer prognosis depends on several factors, including the stages of cancer and the treatments administered to the patient. A doctor best predicts a case’s survival rate.
However, a study with one of the most common metastatic liver cancers from the colon indicated that if treatments are not provided for a diagnosed patient, the life expectancy is less than eight months. Additionally, although treatments are administered, the five-year survival rate is low, with 11% as the maximum prognosis.
Steps to Prevent Cancer
Research shows that at least 30% of cancer cases and deaths can be prevented by early detection and health choices.
Here are steps you can follow to reduce your risk of getting cancer:
- Avoid smoking cigarettes or any exposure to secondhand smoke.
- Always protect your skin from the sun by using dermatologically tested sunscreens.
- Keep a healthy diet. Avoid eating saturated fat and red meat that can increase the risk of colon cancer and lead to metastatic liver cancer.
- Exercise and maintain an average body mass index. Being physically active reduces the risk of colon and breast cancer.
- Practice safe sex.
- Get vaccines to avoid getting diseases like hepatitis.
- Have regular checkups for early disease detection.
- Be familiar with your family history to get cancer screenings earlier rather than much later and get into risky situations.
- Avoid exposure to radiation and industrial toxins.
Comfort and Care With All American Hospice
Are you or anyone close to you diagnosed with metastatic liver cancer? At All American Hospice, our expert caregivers can provide for your needs. We are dedicated to providing you with the highest quality care and services; reach out to learn more.