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What is secondary cancer in the liver?

Secondary cancer in the liver is cancer that started in another part of the body, but has now spread (metastasised) to the liver. This means it is advanced cancer. Secondary cancer in the liver is much more common than primary liver cancer in Australia.

Many cancers can spread to the liver. The most common cancer that spreads to the liver is bowel cancer. This is because the blood supply from the bowel is connected to the liver through the portal vein. Melanoma and cancer in the breast, oesophagus, stomach, pancreas, ovary, kidney or lung can also spread to the liver.

Secondary cancer in the liver may be diagnosed:

  • at the same time as the original cancer (the primary cancer)
  • soon after the primary cancer is found
  • months or years after the primary cancer has been treated
  • before the primary cancer is found
  • when tests can’t find where the cancer started – this is known as cancer of unknown primary (CUP).

If you have secondary cancer in the liver, you may find it useful to read information about the primary cancer type or CUP.

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Understanding Cancer in the Liver

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This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed June 2020 by the following expert content reviewers: Dr David Yeo, Hepatobiliary/Transplant Surgeon, Royal Prince Alfred, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse Cancer Centre and St George Hospitals, NSW; Dr Lorraine Chantrill, Head of Department Medical Oncology, Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District, NSW; Michael Coulson, Consumer; Dr Sam Davis, Interventional Radiologist, Staff Specialist, Royal Brisbane and Women‘s Hospital, QLD; Prof Chris Karapetis, Network Clinical Director (Cancer Services), Southern Adelaide Local Health Network, Head, Department of Medical Oncology, Flinders Medical Centre and Flinders University, SA; Dr Howard Liu, Radiation Oncologist, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Lina Sharma, Consumer; Dr Graham Starkey, Hepato-Biliary and General Surgeon, Austin Hospital, VIC; Catherine Trevaskis, Gastrointestinal Cancer Specialist Nurse, Canberra Hospital and Health Services, ACT; Dr Michael Wallace, Western Australia Liver Transplant Service, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital,