Secondary Liver Cancer

Secondary liver cancer is a condition in which the primary cancer cells have spread to the liver. Cancers such as bowel cancer, lung cancer, and breast cancer can spread to liver. For example, when an individual has lung cancer, and cancerous cells extend to the liver, then liver cancer comprises cancer cells that are from the lungs.

Liver cancer in human illustration. Image Credit: BlueRingMedia / Shutterstock
Liver cancer in human illustration. Image Credit: BlueRingMedia / Shutterstock

Managing Symptoms

The intensity of symptoms experienced may vary across individuals and, in fact, not all individuals have symptoms. Some of those which occur are as follows:

A common symptom reported by secondary liver cancer patients is extreme tiredness. Everyday life becomes difficult and a feeling of sickness is experienced. Devoting additional time to do your tasks and taking help from others may help. If the current treatment for the sickness is not found to be effective, discussing with physicians and identifying the cause of sickness may help to arrive at effective treatment.

Eating meals in small quantities frequently instead of a big meal helps to manage loss of appetite. The type of food that a patient is eating may not be considered, and he/she can eat what he/she prefers to. When he/she avoids food, substituting it with high-energy drinks is advised.

In some patients, the abdomen is swollen due to accumulation of fluid. Conditions such as blockage of lymph glands in the abdomen may prevent the fluid from draining. In addition, when cancer spreads to the liver, it can increase the pressure in the adjacent blood vessels, forcing the fluid to move out. When the liver is unable to produce sufficient blood proteins, the fluid starts leaking from the veins into the abdominal cavity.

In all the above conditions, physicians insert a needle in the abdomen and drain the abdominal fluid (ascites) with the help of a tube; otherwise, the fluid may build up once again. Sometimes physicians permanently insert an internal tube into the abdomen for draining the fluid.

To control pain, physicians prescribe pain killers.

The white portion of the eye and skin may turn yellow. It is also possible for the bowel movements to turn white or pale. Patients may also experience itchy skin. When the cancer affects large portions of the liver or if there is a block in the bile duct, it may result in jaundice. Physicians insert a bile duct to remove blocks from the bile duct.

When the liver presses the chest nerve, then hiccups may occur. Drugs are available to control hiccups.

As the liver helps in controlling body temperature, extreme temperatures may affect patients so that they may feel extreme cold or hot.

Treatment

Treatment for secondary liver cancer includes removing tumors or reducing the size of the tumor or controlling the symptoms.

For patients undergoing intrahepatic chemotherapy, a catheter—a thin tube—is inserted in the main artery that leads to the liver. Chemotherapy is provided with the help of a small pump that is placed near the liver. The duration of the treatment varies depending on the requirements for each patient.

In hepatic artery infusion (HAI), a higher concentration of the medicine is used for treating the tumor.

In another similar process, transarterial chemoembolization (TACE), along with the chemotherapy drug, an oily liquid or a gelatin sponge that can be absorbed is given to the patients. The drug mixture prevents the flow of blood, oxygen, and nutrients that the liver receives while damaging tumor cells. As the drug mixture resides in the tumor area for a substantial amount of time, the cancerous cells receive a high-dosage drug treatment.

As in X-rays, during radiotherapy, high-energy waves are used to destroy cancer cells. The therapy is used for controlling symptoms such as pain and growth of cancer cells. However, it is not recommended for liver cancer as the liver is very sensitive to this treatment.

In selective internal radiation therapy (SIRT), a catheter is inserted into the hepatic artery, which supplies blood to the liver. Through this tube, physicians send small beads known as microspheres, which surround the tumor area by getting stuck in the nearby tiny blood vessels.

The microspheres, also called SIR-spheres, use a radioactive substance, yttrium 90, which provides the dosage of radiation to the tumor. In addition to causing damage to the cancer cells, the radiation also interrupts the blood supply to the tumor, which makes the tumor nutrient deficient (radioembolization process).

Although the radiation from the microscope affects a region of about 2–3 mm around the tumor that is trapped, the extent of damage to the healthy tissues that surround the trapped area is very less. The harmless microspheres reside permanently in the liver and within two weeks, the radiation goes away from the microspheres.

Treatments such as injection of alcohol, laser therapy, and microwave ablation are used to destroy cancer cells. In cryotherapy, cancer cells are frozen.

In radiofrequency ablation, radio waves are used to destroy cancer cells, whereas in radiofrequency-assisted surgery, radio waves are used to destroy the cancer cells and remove them from the patients.

Further Reading

Last Updated: Aug 11, 2017

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