When lung cancer spreads to the liver

  • If lung cancer has spread to the liver, it means the cancer has metastasized.
  • New symptoms will appear and your doctor will likely recommend new treatment options.
  • Cancer survival statistics cannot give a complete picture of a person’s prognosis, but they can provide information about the success of available treatments.

Metastatic cancer is cancer that spreads from one part of the body to another. Lung cancer that metastasizes to the liver will lead to new symptoms and possibly new treatment options.

Before diagnosing the cancerous spread as liver metastases, your doctor will perform tests. These will help them develop a treatment plan to reduce symptoms.

There is no cure for lung cancer, but treatments can slow its progression and provide comfort.

Survival rates are based on the results of treatment in a large number of people. While they can’t predict outcomes for a single individual, they can give an idea of ​​how likely treatments are to fight cancer.

The area of ​​the body where cancer is first detected is called the primary site. If the cancer breaks away from this initial site and begins to spread to other parts of the body, it is called metastasis.

When lung cancer metastasizes (travels) to the liver, it means that cancer cells have traveled through the lymphatic system or the bloodstream to the liver.

Cancer cells in the liver look like cancer cells in the lung. The type of cells is something doctors look at when deciding how to treat cancer.

At first, you may feel tired or have a fever and have no symptoms specific to cancer. In fact, many people don’t have symptoms at first.

As the lung cancer that has spread to the liver progresses, you may experience the following:

  • weightloss
  • loss of appetite
  • jaundice
  • itchy skin
  • bloated stomach
  • swelling of the legs

Some people may experience pain in the upper right part of the abdomen. The liver itself may be larger than usual and be hard or tender to the touch on the right side of the body. If the liver is significantly enlarged, metastasis can be advanced.

Some people can get hepatic encephalopathy (HE) in advanced stages of lung cancer that has metastasized into the liver. Other serious liver complications can also lead to HE.

The condition results in reduced brain function because the liver can no longer filter toxins from the blood. Signs of HE include confusion and drowsiness.

If you experience any of these symptoms, let your doctor know so they can start doing tests that will help you determine the best way to take care of yourself.

First, your doctor may order blood tests to see how your liver is working. Abnormalities don’t necessarily mean that your lung cancer has metastasized to the liver, but such findings will likely lead to more testing.

For example, if abnormalities are found, your doctor may decide to perform imaging tests. A CT or MRI scan allows healthcare professionals to get a closer look at what’s going on with the liver.

Unfortunately, these scans are not foolproof and may miss small tumors. Other liver conditions, such as cirrhosis, can sometimes look like cancer. So, you may need more testing before you are diagnosed with anything.

A liver biopsy is one of these procedures. This involves taking a sample of liver tissue with a needle. The results of the biopsy can help doctors make a conclusive diagnosis of metastatic lung cancer.

Once the diagnosis is made, your doctor will make a treatment plan especially for you.

Possible treatments for lung cancer that has metastasized to the liver are:

Your doctor may recommend one or more of these treatments, depending on the extent of the cancer’s spread. In more advanced cases, doctors seek to reduce the symptoms because it is not possible to get rid of the cancer.

Before making a decision, you need to consider both the potential benefits and the side effects.

Chemotherapy is the most common treatment. It is used to slow the growth of cancer and also to relieve symptoms.

SBRT is a new form of radiation. It takes less time and has fewer side effects than traditional radiation therapy methods called external beam radiation therapy (EBRT). Since it can more precisely target liver cancer cells, it can limit damage to healthy tissue.

SBRT is given over just a few days, while EBRT is given 5 days a week for several weeks.

SBRT is usually a palliative treatment for lung cancer that has metastasized to the liver. The goal is to reduce pain, not to heal.

Finally, surgery is an option if your doctor finds only a few areas where the cancer has spread.

Cancer survival statistics do not give the full picture of a person’s outlook.

The American Cancer Society says survival rates are 7 percent for non-small cell lung cancer and 3 percent for small cell lung cancer that has spread to other organs. Data is based on diagnoses between 2009 and 2015.

The survival rate is the percentage of people who still live a certain number of years after diagnosis, usually 5 years. Although survival statistics cannot provide individuals with an accurate understanding of their lifespan, they can provide useful information about the overall success of treatments.

It is a good idea to discuss with your doctor how these statistics might apply to you, given your general health and your treatment options.

The outlook depends on various factors. To guide the next steps in treatment, your doctor will look at:

  • the lung cancer subtype
  • the rate of spread
  • the number and size of tumors
  • your overall health
  • your age
  • how cancer responds to interventions

A doctor may perform tests to confirm that the cancer has metastasized to the liver.

Following a diagnosis of metastatic lung cancer, there are a few different treatment options. These aim to shrink or eliminate tumors and reduce pain.

The survival rate for metastatic lung cancer does not take into account factors that can improve a person’s outlook, nor does it reflect new treatments.

Survival rates can’t tell you how long you’ll live after a diagnosis of metastatic lung cancer, but they can help you understand the average success of treatments.


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