When breast cancer spreads to another part of the body, this is called metastatic breast cancer, also known as stage IV breast cancer. This occurs when cancer cells break away from the original tumor in the breast and travel to other organs through the bloodstream or lymphatic system.
While a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis can feel overwhelming, it is important to remember that treatment options do exist to relieve symptoms and improve both a patient’s quality of life and overall survival.
Symptoms of Liver Metastases from Breast Cancer
When breast cancer spreads to the liver, it may not cause any symptoms. However, a variety of tests can help detect the presence of liver metastases, including liver function tests that measure enzyme activity in the liver which could reveal an abnormality prompting more extensive testing in the form of imaging. A liver function test is obtained from a simple blood sample and is very easy to measure. It is usually the first test patients obtain when suspicion of liver metastases exists.
Typical symptoms of liver metastases when they occur include
- Pain or discomfort in the mid-section
- Fatigue and weakness
- Weight loss and poor appetite
- Swelling in the legs
- Jaundice, or a yellow tint to the skin or whites of the eyes
When present, these symptoms do not expressly point to liver cancer metastases from breast cancer as many other medical conditions can also cause them. This is why it is strongly recommended to be evaluated by a physician who is highly experienced in liver cancer.
Diagnosing Liver Metastases
In addition to liver function tests, doctors primarily use imaging tests to diagnose liver metastases. These imaging tests may include MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), CT scanning (computed tomography), ultrasound, and PET scan (positron emission tomography). Your doctor may also recommend getting a biopsy, or a tissue sample of a suspicious area that was identified on one of the imaging studies listed above which is then examined under a microscope. Such imaging studies are performed in imaging centers and you may then be referred to an interventional radiologist for the biopsy if it is indeed needed.
Using image guidance, the doctor will insert a small needle through the skin and into the liver to obtain tissue samples. They may also recommend a surgical procedure called laparoscopy, which utilizes specialized instruments to make a small incision in the abdomen that allows a larger piece of tissue to be analyzed. This procedure is performed while the patient is under general anesthesia. The samples are then examined to confirm a diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer and help make decisions to select the best treatment and optimize patient outcomes.
How are Treatment Decisions Made?
The goal of treatment for metastatic breast cancer in the liver, or secondary liver cancer, is to alleviate symptoms and slow the cancer’s progression. Treatments can be delivered alone or in combination.
When making the best treatment decisions, your care team will evaluate the following aspects:
- How extensive the cancer is within the liver
- Whether the cancer has spread to other organs
- Current symptoms
- Previous treatments
- Characteristics of the cancer
- If you are a woman, whether you’ve been through menopause
- Your general health
Your specialist should discuss any recommendations for treatment with you while considering your preferences. They’ll speak with you about your options, explain the goals of your treatment, and help you weigh the potential benefits against the side effects you may experience.
Leading-Edge Outpatient Care for Liver Cancer
At USA Oncology Centers, we provide quality outpatient care for both liver cancer and liver metastases from breast cancer. If you recently received a diagnosis, our interventional oncologists can provide minimally invasive liver cancer treatments that target tumors while sparing healthy tissue. These treatments serve as an effective way to relieve your symptoms, increase your chances of survival, and improve your overall quality of life.
Our minimally invasive treatments may include:
The information in blog articles is for information purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please always consult a licensed healthcare professional for advice on any specific medical condition or any changes to your healthcare decisions.
We’re here for you
We believe that the patient-doctor relationship is at the core of medicine. We’re here to help you through your cancer journey - emotionally, physically and financially.Schedule Online