When Cancer Spreads to the Liver: 4 Things to Know

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By Staff Reports

(DGIwire) – Liver metastases are cancerous tumors that have spread to the liver from somewhere else in the body. Along with bone and lung, the liver is one of the three most common sites of cancer metastasis, according to the National Cancer Institute. Most cases of liver metastases develop from colon or rectal cancers, reports the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC); in fact, approximately 60 to 70 percent of people with colorectal cancer eventually develop a liver tumor. Here are four important things to know about liver metastasis:

  • Outcomes vary for each patient. For many with liver metastases, the cancer can be managed, with symptoms controlled and life expectancy prolonged, according to the MSKCC. Remission is possible in the right hands, using individualized treatment approaches.
  • Many types of treatment exist with varying degrees of efficiency. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), apart from traditional surgery and chemotherapy, treatment can involve a set of newer techniques. These include: ethanol injected into the liver tumor; heat, using radio or microwave energy; freezing, also called cryotherapy; and radioactive beads, which deliver radiation to kill the cancer cells and block the artery that goes to the tumor.
  • Complications can result. The spread of a tumor to a large area of the liver can result in a range of secondary medical conditions, the NIH reports. These can include blockage of the flow of bile, decreased appetite, fever, pain and weight loss. The late stages of disease can result in liver failure as well.
  • Viruses could play a role in cancer immunotherapy. Oncolytic viruses have been shown in studies to help selectively destroy cancer cells, and might also help initiate systemic antitumor responses, according to a report in Nature Reviews Cancer. If viruses can be used to trigger the immune system to kill tumor cells, these viruses may become a powerful tool in immunotherapy.

“This striking fact suggests a novel approach to the treatment of those patients with late-stage cancers with liver metastases,” says Dr. Brad Thompson, president and CEO of Oncolytics Biotech Inc.

Oncolytics’ lead compound in development, REOLYSIN®, is in late-stage clinical testing in a range of cancers. REOLYSIN® has shown that it may preferentially replicate in cancer cells that have an “activated Ras pathway,” while sparing normal cells. This makes it intrinsically tumor selective without the need for any genetic manipulation of the agent.

As time passes, medical researchers’ understanding of liver metastasis is bound to improve. The enhanced insight into the workings of this destructive disease may very well illuminate the road forward to better treatment.

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