When a cancer spreads from a single organ—where it’s known as a primary cancer—to other parts of the body, doctors refer to the disease as a secondary, or metastatic, cancer. Because the liver functions as the body’s cleansing organ, detoxifying blood that comes from other organs, it is a common site of metastatic cancer.
Nearly half of patients with colorectal cancer have a liver metastasis before or during their treatment. For breast cancer, the liver is the third most frequent site of metastasis. At this point, doctors start to think about sending the cancer into remission, rather than completely curing the disease.
Remission starts with treating the secondary cancer, with the intention of slowing the spread. "Luckily, we have multiple treatment options these days,” says Yale Medicine’s Kevin Kim, MD, vice chair of the Department of Radiology & Biomedical Imaging and director of the Interventional Oncology Program at Yale Cancer Center and Smilow Cancer Hospital. At Yale our treatments have very high success rates, especially if patients arrived with a metastasis that was only in their liver.