Secondary liver cancers
When cancer of the colon or rectum (bowel cancer) is diagnosed, the doctor or surgeon will frequently check to see if the cancer has spread to the liver. If a secondary cancer is found it may be possible to surgically remove it. The removal of not only the original bowel cancer, but also the secondary liver growth, means a cure is possible. Most other types of secondary cancers in the liver are difficult to remove through surgery. These are usually treated with chemotherapy (drugs) in order to slow down the growth of cancer cells.

Is liver cancer preventable?
With secondary cancers, it is important to try to prevent the original cancer from starting. Stopping smoking greatly reduces the risk of developing lung cancer and possibly stomach cancer. Eating more fresh fruit and vegetables reduces the chance of suffering from colon cancer. Reducing alcohol intake to within the recommended limits (2 drinks per day for men; 1 per day for women), will reduce the chance of liver cirrhosis and hence hepatomas arising. Preventing and treating viral hepatitis with a vaccination may also help reduce the risk of liver cancer.

Many liver cancers are currently very difficult to cure. A lot of research is being done on new ways to attack cancer cells that are growing in the liver. These ways include the development of new drug therapies, different surgical operations and even attempts to alter the DNA code within the individual cells in order to stop them growing.

Targeted cancer therapies are drugs that block the spread of cancer by interfering with specific molecules involved in tumor growth and progression. One example of an approved targeted therapy, Sorafenib (Nexavar), can be used in people with liver cancer who cannot have surgery or a liver transplant.

Another area of study is researching how and why these cancers start.

Further information
National Cancer Institute: www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/liver

Pubmed Health: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001325/

Last Reviewed: May 2013