Metastatic liver cancer is a cancer that is found in the liver but that originated elsewhere in the body. Mostly secondary liver cancer originates in the colon, pancreas, breast, lung or GI tract.


Diagnosis is usually supported by an imaging test, most often ultrasonography, spiral CT with contrast, or MRI with contrast.


 Treatment usually involves palliative chemotherapy.


Secondary liver cancer


This is another way of describing metastatic liver cancer. It makes clear that there also exists primary liver cancer: a cancer that originates in the liver.


Secondary liver cancer is more difficult to treat than primary liver cancer as obviously the cancer has spread, so more cancer cells need to be destroyed.


Metastatic liver cancer prognosis


Prognosis for metastatic liver cancer will be done after a series of diagnostic procedures. One standard procedure is a biopsy from the liver to find out whether you have primary or secondary liver cancer.


Liver biopsy guided by imaging provides the definitive diagnosis and may help determine the treatment plan.


After one or more tests have been performed, a doctor or specialist will clarify the prognosis for secondary liver cancer.


If primary cancer was not previously identified in some other part of the body, further tests may also be required to determine where the primary cancer is located:


  • MRI scan: a Magnetic Resonance Imaging scan makes detailed images of the body by identifying the origin of the cancer.
  • Gamma PET scan: a tool used in determining a prognosis for metastatic liver cancer using simple sugar and diagnostic radiation. Cancer cells uptake sugar at a much faster rate than normal cells. So the PET scan allows experts to find out which parts of the body are having cancerous metabolisms.
  • Extreme Drug Resistance test: EDR is a highly accurate test for solid tumors to determine the probability of the tumor's resistance to specific chemotherapy.


Once doctors have diagnosed what kind of cancer or tumor you have in your liver, they can inform you about which cancer treatments you can undergo, what your options are and what your prognosis will be.


Always ask for a second opinion from doctors in another hospital thatís well known for dealing with the kind of tumor you are having.


Metastatic liver cancer survival rates


The metastatic cancer in the liver is normally the first noticeable sign of a cancer that started in another organ. Metastatic liver cancer is the most common cause of fatal liver disease.


Secondary liver cancer survivors are rare but you can read survival stories at


Liver cancer has a poor prognosis with a low chance of survival past one year, whether the cancer is primary or secondary:


  • when untreated or treated by simple systemic chemotherapy, or
  • when treated by any means when the cancer is advanced (large tumor, significant impact on serum indicators of liver involvement, rapid metastasis).


The best indicator of survival outcome is the initial condition of the cancer at the time of diagnosis, more so than the type of cancer treatment applied.


When the initial conditions are good (small tumor, little or no vascular invasion, liver condition good), certain cancer therapies are effective, notably surgical resection.


Metastatic liver cancer life expectancy


Factors that influence survival include:


  • cancer treatments with standard, experimental, and complementary therapies,
  • the age, state of mind and health of the cancer patient.


Experienced doctors will be able to have a good calculated guess with a minimum and maximum time of life expectancy.


Comparing outcomes of diverse treatments, an Italian study (6) involving 178 patients indicated the following survival rates:


1-year Rate

3-year Rate

5-year Rate

Chemotherapy or no specific therapy












Liver transplant





Metastatic colon cancer


Stage iv colon cancer spreads easily to the liver. Colon cancer can be prevented or diagnosed early by a regular colonoscopy.


Pancreatic cancer


Pancreatic cancer also spreads easily to the liver. Patrick Swayze is a cancer celebrity battling pancreatic cancer for more than a year since early 2008.




Ascites - collection of excess amounts of fluid in the belly - is a scary side effect indicating a failing liver. As such it can be an indication that a primary liver has spread to the liver.


If normal liver function is affected, a complex set of biochemical checks and balances is disrupted and abnormal amounts of fluid are retained. It starts with swollen feet and you will see the water rising towards the belly.


Ascites often is a sign that the cancer has spread to either the liver or the portal vein that goes to the liver.


Metastatic liver cancer treatment


Cancer treatment will depend on the extent of metastasis.


With very few liver metastases due to a colorectal cancer, surgical resection may prolong survival.


Depending on characteristics of the primary cancer:


  • radiation therapy to the liver occasionally alleviates severe pain due to advanced metastases but does not prolong life.
  • systemic chemotherapy may shrink tumors and prolong life but will be palliative.
  • hepatic intra-arterial chemotherapy sometimes has the same effect for palliative patients but with fewer or milder systemic adverse effects, therefore increasing the quality of life of the cancer patient.
  • extensive metastases are fatal and needs extensive palliative care for the patient and lots of support by and for the family.


Metastatic liver cancer mostly induces palliative care. Only a few metastatic liver cancer patients are surviving this disease.