Liver metastasis is cancer that started in another part of your body and has spread to the liver. Also known as secondary liver cancer, this cancer type is much more common than primary liver cancer, or cancer originating in the liver.
That being said, liver metastasis is no less dangerous than many primary cancer types. So, it remains important that anyone diagnosed with liver metastasis become knowledgeable about the disease their body is trying to fight off.
Any time you are diagnosed with cancer it is important you see a specialist that has experience dealing with the type of cancer you have. This is no different for those diagnosed with colorectal liver metastasis.
Today, we will take a look at what colorectal liver metastasis is and what that means to you. We will explore the idea of liver metastasis, the detection of such cancer, and the overall prognosis of those diagnosed with colorectal metastasis. This way should you or your loved one be given such a scary diagnosis, you will have a more thorough understanding of the disease when you visit your Baltimore liver specialist.
What is Cancer Metastasis?
Before we get into what colorectal liver metastasis is, it is important to understand the process of metastasis. Though not all cancers that spread follow these exact steps, this is a good outline of the basic process:
- Local Invasion – This is the first step primary cancer cells take when they begin to spread. The cancer cells invade nearby healthy tissue to start the journey to another location.
- Intravasation – Cancer cells then begin to invade the walls of lymph and blood vessels in the nearby tissue they have travelled to.
- Circulation – The cancer cells then begin to move through the lymphatic system and bloodstream to other parts of the body.
- Arrest and extravasation – When the cancer cells stop moving they enter the capillaries of the nearby tissue.
- Proliferation – Now the cancer cells begin to grow in their new location.
- Angiogenesis – The new tumors created by the cancer cells stimulate new blood vessels to form supplying the required nutrients for large tumor growth.
In the end, this is the simplified version of how cancer originating on one location spreads to other locations in your body.
In the case of liver metastasis, there are specific types of primary cancers that are more likely to spread to the liver than others:
Today, we will focus on the spread of colorectal cancer to the liver.
What Is Colorectal Liver Metastasis?
Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common form of cancer in both men and women in the United States.
This type of cancer occurs when cancer cells develop in either the rectum or colon. Typically starting out as a small growth called a polyp, the abnormal cells then grow into many different types of colorectal cancer types.
Unfortunately, due to its location near the small intestine, the liver is often infected with travelling colorectal cancer cells in what becomes colorectal liver metastasis.
Since the liver is a large organ and is very strong, it often functions quite normally even if infected with cancerous cells. However, those diagnosed with colorectal liver metastasis often complain of the following symptoms:
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Itchy skin
- Pain or swelling in the abdomen
- Swelling in the ankles
If you have been previously diagnosed with colorectal cancer and experience any of these symptoms, it is a good idea to have your physician check you for liver metastasis.
How is Colorectal Liver Metastasis Diagnosed?
Patients with colorectal liver metastasis are usually diagnosed in two ways. The first is when you are initially diagnosed with colorectal cancer. If it is at an advanced stage and you are showing signs of liver metastasis, secondary cancer may be diagnosed at the same time your primary cancer is diagnosed.
The second way colorectal liver metastasis is typically diagnosed is during the time part of your colon or rectum is removed. In an effort to remove the primary cancer invading your body, sometimes a secondary cancer is revealed.
If there is any detection of colorectal liver metastasis by your physician, the following tests may be order to confirm a diagnosis:
- Imaging tests – These include CT scans, ultrasounds, MRIs, and PET scans. All of these imaging tests can detect tumor growth in your liver using various technologies. Depending on your individual situation, you may have one or more of the following tests ordered to view your liver.
- Blood tests – Sometimes, especially if you have been previously diagnosed with cancer, a blood test can reveal a particular protein that is associated with cancer. Other markers pointing to a cancer diagnosis include abnormal blood counts, blood sugar levels, and poor blood clotting.
- Biopsy – Removal of cells and tissue in the area thought to have cancer may be performed. This small resection of liver tissue may reveal to your physician that your colorectal cancer has indeed travelled to and infected your liver.
In the end, it is important you relay all health issues to your physician if you have had colorectal cancer in the past or are battling it right now. An early detection of colorectal liver metastasis is the key to optimal health.
Colorectal Liver Metastasis Prognosis
In order to beat colorectal liver metastasis, your experienced liver physician must work hand-in-hand with your primary oncologist.
Treatment of colorectal liver metastasis depends on the primary cancer location, how many tumors you have, whether the cancer has continued to metastasize to other organs in your body, and your overall health.
Treatment for you may mean any one or a combination of the following treatment options:
- Chemotherapy – When the cancer has spread to several places in your body a whole-body treatment plan is required. If the cancer has only spread to the liver, a localization of chemotherapy to the exact tumor location may be an option.
- Radiation – This option is not usually used to treat liver metastasis. This is because radiation can damage the liver. There are however targeted radiation techniques for small areas that are infected with cancer that have been known to help.
- Ablative techniques – This involves heat techniques to kill cancer cells on the spot. It is usually performed on small tumors when surgery is not safe or possible.
- Resection – If the tumors are in one designated spot, surgery may be possible by your specialized liver surgeon.
How well you respond to treatment will depend on many factors. Unfortunately, those diagnosed with any type of liver cancer, even colorectal liver metastasis, cannot usually cure the disease. However, with an early diagnosis and an individualized treatment plan, the quantity and quality of many people’s lives can be extended even after a liver metastasis diagnosis.
There is no way to know exactly how long someone will live if diagnosed with colorectal liver metastasis. However, what is known is that the team of liver experts in Baltimore, led by board certified liver surgeon Dr. Fraiman, are dedicated to extending your survival and giving you the healthiest and most positive outlook possible when diagnosed with something such as colorectal liver metastasis.
With over 20 years in the field, Dr. Fraiman is one of the only surgeons in the Baltimore area performing liver surgeries, which is a very real treatment option with a liver metastasis diagnosis.
If you feel your colorectal cancer may have spread to your liver, contact The Liver and Pancreas Center at St. Joseph Medical Center and get in touch with Dr. Fraiman. He will work hard to get you as healthy as possible and guide you through every stage of the healing process.