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Bowel Cancer That Has Spread To The Liver: Cause & Treatment

If you’ve been recently diagnosed with bowel cancer and it has spread to the liver, you are most likely wondering what caused it and what treatments are available. Generally, the exact cause of cancer is not known, but research shows that certain factors may increase your chances of developing it. But first, what causes bowel cancer?

What causes bowel cancer?


According to studies, older adults over the age of 50 are more likely to develop bowel cancer than younger individuals. However, it’s important to note that even young people can get bowel cancer, but it’s not common in childhood.

Family history

If you have a family history of bowel cancer, particularly in a first-degree relative such as your sister, brother, father or mother, it increases your lifetime risk of developing the disease. 

Substance use

People who smoke and drink alcohol are more likely to develop bowel cancer than those who don’t. Smoking can also expose you to other types of cancer, including gallbladder cancer.

If you have a family history of bowel cancer, you might want to cut down or completely eliminate tobacco and alcohol from your lifestyle. Furthermore, smoking and drinking aren’t good for your overall health and wellbeing, so you’re better off doing it in moderation if you have to.

Being overweight or obese

Obesity changes the functions of essential hormones like insulin and leptin, which in turn causes irregular cell growth in the colon, creating tumours. If you’re overweight or obese, establish a consistent exercise regimen and a good nutritional diet to lose weight and prevent bowel cancer and other diseases in the future.

Other bowel cancer causes

Other factors that can cause bowel cancer include:

  • Polyps
  • Inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease
  • A sedentary lifestyle
  • Diabetes

Liver metastasis

Cancer spreading from the bowel to the liver, otherwise known as liver metastasis or metastatic bowel cancer, is quite common. This is because the liver obtains most of its blood supply from the portal vein, therefore cancer cells from the bowel can travel easily to the liver. 

The majority of the time, cancer in the liver is secondary, or ‘metastatic’ which means it usually originates in another part of the body and then spreads to the liver. The cancerous cells that are in metastatic liver tumours are not actually liver cells. They are the cells that have travelled from a part of the body where the cancer originally began, such as from the bowel or lungs.

Liver metastasis treatment

Treatment will be advised by a team of liver experts to help agree on the best treatment plan for you. There is a range of treatments available for bowel cancer that has spread to the liver; but this will depend on a number of factors, such as the location and size of the tumour(s). In general, a combination of surgery to remove the primary bowel cancer, surgery to remove the liver metastases and chemotherapy may offer the potential for cure or long-term survival following the diagnosis of metastatic bowel cancer. The treatment options include:

  • Liver surgery 
  • Chemotherapy
  • Liver tumour ablation
  • Targeted therapy
  • Embolisation treatment

Liver surgery

At the Birmingham HPB clinic, we can offer liver resection surgery for patients with bowel cancer that has spread to the liver. We may recommend that you undergo either laparoscopic (keyhole) surgery or open surgery, depending on your circumstances. We are experienced in treating patients with solitary or multiple liver metastases, including patients who have tumours affecting both lobes of the liver. We have expertise in two-stage liver resection and have access to expert interventional radiologists who can undertake portal vein embolization procedures prior to liver resection surgery, in order to grow part of the liver that will be left inside the body, reducing the risks of surgery.  

Laparoscopic liver resection surgery

This type of surgery may be possible, depending on various factors such as the history of previous open abdominal surgery, tumour size and position. Laparoscopic liver resection is less invasive than traditional open surgery and avoids the need for long incisions below the ribcage. Recovery after laparoscopic liver resection is generally faster than open surgery with fewer complications.

For complex liver resections, we may recommend open liver surgery which involves making a long incision below the ribcage on the right side of your abdomen.

Recovery after liver resection surgery

Following your liver resection surgery, you will be transferred to a high dependency or intensive care area for blood pressure monitoring. You will receive physiotherapy on the first postoperative day and will be expected to mobilise very early after surgery, in order to reduce complications. The average stay in hospital is 2-3 days after laparoscopic liver resection and 4-5 days after open liver resection.

Liver tumour ablation

Tumour ablation is an effective liver tumour treatment that aims to destroy the tumour through microwaves or electrical currents. Utilising x-ray imaging guidance, a needle is inserted into the liver tumour. High-frequency currents are then administered to generate heat that destroys the cancer cells. The objective of this treatment is to destroy the cancer cells without damaging the liver in the process.

How we can help you

If you suffer from bowel cancer that has spread to the liver, or some form of liver metastasis, contact the experts at  Birmingham HPB Clinic to discuss your treatment options. Our surgeon will be able to advise you accordingly. Contact us today to book an appointment.