It’s common for people with secondary breast cancer to get tumours in their liver.

What problems can secondaries in the liver cause?

It’s common for people with secondary breast cancer to get tumours in their liver.

These can cause problems such as:

  • Feeling sick
  • Fatigue
  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Discomfort or pain
  • Jaundice (yellow skin)
  • Swelling of your abdomen (called ascites)

Treatments may help to relieve some of these symptoms.

What treatments might I receive?

Most people with secondary breast cancer in the liver receive anticancer drugs.

Other treatment include:

  • Draining fluid from your abdomen
  • Steroids
  • Painkillers
  • Surgery or radiotherapy

You may also be offered to take part in a clinical trial.

Draining fluid off your abdomen

If you have a lot of fluid collecting in your abdomen (ascites), this can be drained using a needle. Unfortunately, this only gives short-term relief, and you may need the procedure again.

Alternatively, you might be able to have a permanent drain (tube) fitted in your abdomen.

Steroids

Steroids can also be helpful for treating some of the symptoms of secondaries in the liver. Examples are dexamethasone and prednisolone.

Painkillers

Painkillers can help to block pain from liver secondaries. They can be very effective at relieving pain.

The type of painkiller you’re prescribed will be tailored to treat the level of pain you have.

You can learn more about treatments for pain in our section on quality of life

Surgery or radiotherapy

Surgery and radiotherapy are not commonly used to treat liver secondaries. This is because the cancer tends to come back afterwards and there is not much proof that they effective.

One type of surgery that is sometimes used is radiofrequency ablation. This uses heat produced by radiowaves to kill cancer cells.

If surgery or other treatments are an option for your cancer, your oncologist or surgeon will explain the risks and benefits to you.

If you’re offered surgery, your surgeon can explain what side effects you might experience and the risks. Some liver surgery can be performed using laparoscopy (key-hole surgery), which has fewer risks than open surgery.

Talking about experience of secondary cancer in the liver, including symptoms and treatments:

Tips and advice

Advice on getting the best care

To help you feel confident you’re getting the best care, you may want to:

  • Ask your treatment team to explain what your treatment options are, and why they are recommending a particular drug or procedure for you
  • Ask whether an expert such as an surgeon specialising in the liver can be consulted about your treatment, if they haven’t been already
  • Ask whether there are any additional options for you, including new procedures, clinical trials or treatment at other centres
  • Go over the risks and benefits of each treatment with your treatment team
  • Speak up if you get new symptoms or side effects – your treatment team can often help by prescribing additional treatment

Information Standard

Information last reviewed: October 2015

Breast Cancer Now's health information is covered by NHS England's Information Standard quality mark. Find out how this resource was developed.