What can be expected with liver metastasis?

When cancer spreads to the liver the metastasis may have direct or indirect effects. This depends on the size and location of the metastatic tumor, and ranges from no visible effects to several serious ones. The person may also experience other symptoms caused by the general effect of cancer on the body.

The liver is a large organ with a fair amount of reserve function. This allows it to keep doing its work even if it contains a tumor. The liver only sends signals of pain when the capsule, the casing around the liver, is stretched. If the tumor in the liver is not big enough to stretch the capsule, or if it’s growing slowly enough for the capsule to adjust, then there likely won’t be pain. For many people who have liver metastases, the most apparent symptoms are the effects of cancer generally on the body.

A tumor may affect a specific area in the liver resulting in more obvious symptoms of the metastasis. If the bile duct is blocked, then bile may build up and a substance in the bile called bilirubin may cause jaundice, which leads to yellow skin and eyes. A build-up of bile can also cause itchiness, drowsiness or confusion. A blocked bile duct can lead to an infection also. There can be pain in part of the liver if the capsule is stretched or if there’s an infection. This pain is usually treated with medication such as opioids.

If there’s a large amount of tumor in the liver, then its overall functioning will likely be affected. The liver may have trouble removing bile, even if there is no blockage. This produces jaundice. There may be swelling in the legs and abdomen. Liver failure occurs if the liver can’t function the way the body needs it to function. Liver failure makes people lose energy, strength and appetite. It can be hard to know how much of this is due to the liver problem specifically and how much is the general effect of cancer on the body.

Medications can help with specific symptoms such as pain, nausea and itchiness. It’s more difficult to treat loss of energy and appetite, which are common in advanced stages of illness.

[JM1]Link to further up the page – Cancer – what happens when someone has cancer.