Secondary liver cancer is cancer that has spread to the liver from another location. Treatment depends on the cancer’s origin, the amount of liver affected, and whether it has spread to other locations.

Any type of cancer can spread to the liver, but typically, cancers that spread to the liver and cause secondary liver cancer are fueled by hormones. This most often includes breast, ovarian, and pancreatic cancer.

Common treatment options for secondary liver cancer include chemotherapy, immunotherapy, targeted therapy, surgery, and ablation.

Take a closer look at treatment options and the outlook for people with secondary liver cancer.

Secondary liver cancer is when you develop cancer somewhere else in the body and it spreads to the liver. This is different from primary liver cancer, which begins in the liver itself.

Secondary cancer locations are also called cancer spread (metastases). They happen as cancer progresses. For instance, secondary liver cancer may also be called liver metastasis.

The cancer cells that spread are cells made in the original cancer location. This means that if stomach cancer spreads to the liver, the cancer cells will still be stomach cancer cells.

Symptoms of secondary liver cancer can include:

Any type of cancer can spread to the liver.

Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers to lead to secondary liver cancer. About 50% of people who receive a diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer develop secondary liver cancer.

Secondary liver cancer can also be the result of other cancers that use hormones to grow and spread. Cancers include:

If your cancer team suspects your cancer has spread to your liver, you’ll have tests to confirm the diagnosis. This will typically include imaging tests such as a:

If secondary liver cancer is confirmed, your treatment will depend on where in your body the cancer began, which parts of your liver are affected, and where else the cancer has spread to.

Treatment options for secondary liver cancer include:

  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy can kill cancer cells and prevent further spread.
  • Hormonal therapies: Hormonal therapies can stop cancer that has spread to the liver from feeding on hormones. This can slow down growth.
  • Targeted therapy: Targeted therapy is a cancer treatment that helps your body identify cancer cells so that they can be destroyed.
  • Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy helps your immune system target and kill cancer cells.
  • Surgery: Surgery is sometimes an option for people with secondary liver cancer. It can be used if only a few areas of the liver are affected by cancer and can be removed surgically.
  • Ablation: Ablation can be an option for people who cannot have surgery. It uses techniques such as lasers or extreme temperatures to destroy tumors and cells.
  • Embolization: Embolization is a treatment that blocks the flow of blood to a tumor area. It’s sometimes used to treat secondary liver cancer.
  • Radiation: A type of radiation that can deliver small and concentrated doses called stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR) is sometimes used to help treat secondary liver cancer.

Your individual outlook is dependent on factors such as:

  • where the cancer originated
  • how quickly your cancer is growing
  • if your cancer has spread to locations other than your liver
  • how much of your liver is affected
  • how well you respond to treatments

Among the different places where cancer can start before spreading to the liver, breast cancer has one of the best overall survival times — an average of 13.2 months of survival after the cancer has spread.

The 5-year relative survival rate of breast cancer that has spread to distant organs, including the liver, is 30%.

Research has found that people with secondary liver cancer that originated in the stomach, pancreas, or lungs were most likely to have poorer outcomes. For example, pancreatic cancer that has spread to the liver has a 5-year relative survival rate of 3%.

Your doctor can help you get a better understanding of your personal outlook for your specific situation.

Secondary liver cancer develops when cancer spreads from another location to the liver. Commonly, this includes breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and other cancers that rely on hormones for their growth and spread.

Treatments and outlooks for people with secondary liver cancer depend on several factors, such as:

  • the original location of the cancer
  • how much of the liver is affected
  • where else in the body the cancer has spread, if it has