If you or a loved one has colorectal cancer that has spread (metastasized) to the liver, it is important to learn the facts and evaluate treatment options.  A diagnosis of colorectal liver metastases can be overwhelming, but there is hope.

Secondary liver cancer indicates that tumors that have spread or metastasized to the liver from another part of the body. These tumors can appear shortly after the original tumor develops, or even months or years later.

The most common cancer responsible for spreading to the liver is the colon. These cancer cells are not liver cells but are cells from the organ in which the cancer originated. Metastasis liver cancer is more common than primary liver cancer in most cases.

What Are Its Symptoms?

Since the cancer cells do not originate in the liver, it is often difficult to identify the early signs of liver metastasis, even if the cancer has already been discovered in the originating organ. However, the symptoms of liver metastasis are common to those of primary liver cancer or any disease affecting the organ, and can include:

  • Loss of appetite or sudden weight loss for no reason
  • Dark urine and stool
  • Swelling of the liver or a lump felt through the abdomen
  • Pain in the upper right abdomen
  • Jaundice

How Does Cancer Spread to the Liver?

It is more common for a cancer located in another organ to metastasize to the liver than for cancer to form in this organ. Common cancers linked to metastasized liver cancer are breast; colon; kidney; lung; pancreas; skin; esophagus and uterus.

The way cancer cells metastasize to the liver follow the same path as most other cancers:

  • First, the cancer cells migrate from the primary location into healthy tissue close by (called local invasion).
  • Next, the cells move through the lymph nodes and blood vessels, into the lymphatic system and the bloodstream (intravasation).
  • From here, the cells can quickly move throughout the body (circulation).

They will stop migration when they reach a distant location with healthy cells and tissues, passing through the blood vessel walls and invading (arrest and extravasation).

Much like in the originating location, the mutated cells then start to form small tumors, known as micrometastases (proliferation).

Once these small tumors start to grow, they will form their own blood vessels in which they will receive the nutrients and oxygen from the body to continue to grow and spread (angiogenesis).

How is Secondary Liver Cancer Diagnosed?

Since secondary liver cancer is the result of a primary cancer located elsewhere in the body, it is likely that the patient is already being treated or has been diagnosed with cancer and is receiving regular checkups.

For this reason, regular testing to monitor the primary cancer is common, but it is still recommended to seek immediate medical assistance if any health function appears abnormal, including the liver.

The tests to determine if metastasization has occurred in the liver are like those for primary liver cancer and include:

  • Physical examination
  • CT scan or MRI
  • Serum tumor markers
  • Biopsy

How Is Secondary Liver Cancer Treated?

Nearly half of patients with colorectal cancer have a liver metastasis before or during their treatment. At this point, doctors start to think about sending the cancer into remission, rather than completely curing the disease.

Radioembolization, also called Y-90 Selective Internal Radiation Therapy (SIRT), is a minimally- invasive therapy for liver cancer that cannot be removed with surgery.

Radioembolization combines the localized delivery of radiation therapy in the form of tiny beads (microspheres) and embolization to treat patients with liver cancer.

Once injected, small microspheres, just 1/3 width of a human hair are carried by the blood flow directly within and around the liver tumor where they lodge and emit radiation to kill the tumor cells.

When lodged in the tumor, the microspheres emit radiation that only kills the tumor cells while causing minimal damage to the surrounding tissue. Radiation from the microspheres decreases is decayed after one month. The decayed microspheres remain in the liver but are harmless.

The targeted nature and high level of precision of this therapy delivers more radiation to liver tumors than would be possible using conventional external beam radiotherapy.

Benefits of treatment include:

  • Extends overall survival
  • Potentially stops liver tumors from growing or causes them to shrink
  • This treatment is not painful or invasive

Treatment recommendations are made by a team of liver specialists based on treatment guidelines, stage of the disease and status of the patient’s general health.

USA Oncology Centers Y-90 Treatment

At USA Oncology Centers, we pride ourselves with a very high rate of success using minimally invasive procedures to treat secondary liver cancer.

Our treatments are offered under the direction of Dr. Jeff Geschwind, who is recognized internationally as an expert in liver cancer. Together, we offer a holistic approach to treating cancer that focuses on improving the quality of life.

Whether you have questions about your current cancer regimen, or want to learn more about our targeted, minimally-invasive liver cancer treatments, we are here to answer your questions.

To learn more, simply schedule an appointment online or call 855-870-4747.  Once you schedule your appointment, you will have a consultation to discuss your condition and offer the best treatment option.


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.

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