Causes And Diagnosis Of Liver Metastasis

Metastasis is the spread of cancer cells from where they first formed to another part of the body. The cancer cells break away from the original tumour, travel through the blood or lymph system, and form new tumours in other parts of the body. 

The liver is a common site for metastasis of many cancer types, including:

  • Colorectal
  • Breast
  • Stomach
  • Oesophageal
  • Kidney
  • Lung
  • Pancreatic 

These cancers can metastasize to the liver. Your doctor may also refer to liver metastases as stage IV or advanced cancer.

Symptoms of liver metastases

There are barely any symptoms of liver metastasis in the early stages. In the later stages, symptoms vary based on how much of the liver is involved. Some of the symptoms include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Jaundice
  • Bloating or abdominal swelling
  • Pain in the upper right abdomen
  • Dark coloured urine
  • Pain in the right shoulder
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sweats and fever
  • Enlarged liver (when the liver is enlarged, you can feel a lump on the right side of the abdomen below the ribcage)

Diagnosis of liver metastasis

If you experience any of the symptoms mentioned above, see a doctor for a proper diagnosis. If they suspect liver cancer upon examination, they will ask to conduct various tests to confirm the diagnosis. These tests include:

Liver function tests

A liver function test indicates how well your liver is functioning. Usually, liver enzyme levels are elevated when there is a problem. Your doctor may also check for blood and serum markers. These are substances in the blood linked to cancer.

Imaging tests

Your doctor may need to carry out an MRI, CT scan, ultrasound, or positron emission tomography [PET] to diagnose liver metastasis. A CT scan takes visual images of soft-tissues organs in detail. If the cells appear abnormal, an ultrasound test will help your doctor determine whether the tumour is benign [non-cancerous] or malignant [cancerous]. 

If a malignant tumour is found, your doctor may conduct a PET scan to determine the exact location of the liver metastasis and figure out how far the cancer has grown. A PET scan starts with an injection of radioactive sugar. Since cancer cells absorb sugar faster than healthy cells, they are highlighted on the scan.


A biopsy is an important part of the diagnosis process because it allows your doctor to determine how extensive your tumour is and what type of cells it contains. Your doctor can either use the fine-needle aspiration or a laparoscopy to conduct the biopsy. The tissue is then examined under a microscope by a pathologist to learn more about its behaviour and characteristics.

If you are seeking expert help on liver metastasis, contact our team of expert consultants at Birmingham HPB Clinic today.