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  • Writer's pictureDoç.Dr.Mutlu Ünver

Causes and Symptoms of Metastatic Liver Tumors - Assoc. Prof. Dr. Mutlu UNVER - Izmir, Turkey

Updated: Mar 2

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What does Metastasis Mean?

Metastasis refers to a condition in which the cancer has spread to areas farther away from its starting point. This can indicate that the cancer is at an advanced stage and is often considered a poor prognostic sign. The occurrence of metastasis can affect treatment processes and the course of the disease.

What is Liver Metastasis?

Liver metastasis is the spread of cancer anywhere in the body from the organ of origin to another location. This spread is called metastasis and if these metastases are seen in the liver, it is called liver metastasis.

What Causes Metastatic Liver Cancer?

Metastatic tumors in the liver occur when cancers in the body spread from their primary source to the liver. This is due to the fact that the liver, unlike other organs, receives a large amount of blood from both the hepatic artery and the portal vein. The dense blood supply makes digestive system organs, especially the stomach, intestines and pancreas, more prone to metastasize to the liver.

What Causes Metastatic Liver Cancer?

Liver metastases are usually caused by cancer tumors. Cancer is caused by abnormal growth and proliferation of cells. These cells can spread throughout the body and reach other tissues and organs, where they can form new tumors. Cancer cells that spread through the blood and lymph circulation can settle in the liver and form metastases.


Metastases in the liver are especially common in cancers originating from digestive system organs such as the stomach, intestines and pancreas. However, other types of cancer such as breast cancer and colon cancer can also cause liver metastases.

Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial to prevent liver metastases.

Cancer tumors are usually asymptomatic and can be detected with routine check-ups. Adopting a healthy lifestyle, exercising regularly and reducing smoking and alcohol consumption can reduce the risk of cancer. With these measures, you can prevent cancer tumors from forming.

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Liver Metastases Symptoms

Liver metastases can sometimes present with symptoms, such as abdominal pain, jaundice, fatigue and deterioration in liver function tests.

They can also sometimes be detected by imaging tests performed for other reasons (e.g. ultrasound, CT scan, PET-CT and MRI scans).

In some patients, these metastases may follow a previously detected and treated cancer elsewhere in the body (metachronous metastases). In other cases, metastases may appear in the liver at the same time as the primary tumor is detected (synchronous metastases).

Also, sometimes metastases are observed in the liver, while no obvious tumor is found in other parts of the body (liver metastases of unknown primary).

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In cases where masses suggestive of metastases are visualized, a biopsy is important both to diagnose the cancer and to identify the primary tumor.

Usually, an ultrasound-guided liver biopsy can answer both questions. However, in some cases, it may be necessary to take a biopsy of the tumor that is thought to be the primary tumor.

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In the early stages of metastasis, there may be no symptoms. However, later on, when it blocks the bile ducts and blood vessels, the following symptoms may occur:

  • Loss of appetite

  • Weight loss

  • Passing dark urine

  • Abdominal swelling or gas

  • Jaundice of the eyes and skin

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Disturbance of consciousness

  • Fever and sweating

  • Fullness and pain in the right side of the abdomen due to enlarged liver

These symptoms may appear differently in different individuals. In the case of liver metastases, it is important to consult your doctor for diagnosis and treatment of symptoms.

Liver Cancer Stages

The stages of liver cancer are important for determining the extent to which the disease has spread and the size of the tumor. It is usually analyzed in four stages:

Liver Cancer Stage 1 Liver Cancer: 

The cancer forms tumors only within the liver and has not spread to other organs.

Liver Cancer Stage 2 Liver Cancer: 

Tumors within the liver may be limited or may spread into the blood vessels.

Liver Cancer Stage 3 Liver Cancer: 

More than one large tumor may affect liver tissue or a large tumor may affect a large blood vessel.

Liver Cancer Stage 4 Liver Cancer: 

In the final stage, the cancer has metastasized to other sites, which may be distant sites such as the lung or bone.

In addition, depending on the size and spread of the cancer, the following details are taken into account:

Liver cancer treatment is determined according to staging. Methods such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy are among the treatment options. Therefore, staging of the disease is of great importance in creating a treatment plan.

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