Different Liver Cancers: Metastatic vs. Hepatocellular

by | Nov 1, 2023 | Cancer Treatment, CyberKnife for Cancer Treatment, Metastatic vs. Hepatocellular Liver Cancer

Metastatic liver cancer — or cancer that has spread to the liver – is more common than primary or hepatocellular liver cancer.

But both can be treated – especially when caught early.

When primary liver cancer is caught in the early stages, patients have treatment options – like surgery or transplant — that can be curative. That’s promising for the more than 40,000 Americans who will be newly diagnosed with liver cancer every year, according to the American Cancer Society.

Scientists are always looking for new ways to detect liver cancer early. 

Researchers at Johns Hopkins have developed a new urine screening test that can detect liver cancer earlier, especially when added to the current standard-of-care blood test to detect alpha-fetoprotein, a protein expressed by the AFP gene and ultrasound to look for lesions.

“Our findings in the study suggest that the urine panel may complement serum AFP as a more reliable screening test,” hepatologist Amy Kim, the study’s author, wrote in a journal article published in the British Journal of Cancer.

Types of Liver Cancer 

There are several different types of liver cancer according to the Hepatitis B Foundation.

Hepatocellular Carcinoma is a cancer that starts in liver cells called hepatocytes. It is the most common liver cancer, the fifth most common cancer globally and the third most common cause of deaths from cancer.  In fact, 90% of all liver cancer cases are hepatocellular carcinomas. There are risk factors associated with hepatocellular carcinoma, which include hepatitis B or hepatitis C infections, cirrhosis, excessive drinking, obesity, diabetes and long-term steroid use.

Bile Duct Cancer, which starts in the liver and moves to the small intestine, accounts for 9% of all liver cancers.

Other less common liver cancers include gallbladder cancer, angiosarcoma – cancer of the blood vessels in the liver – and several rare pediatric liver cancers. 

However, another common form of liver cancer is cancer that starts somewhere else in the body and metastasizes – or spreads to the liver. 

According to the Canadian Cancer Society, metastatic liver cancer is more common than primary liver cancer. About 25% of all cancers that spread metastasize to the liver according to the National Institutes of Health.

The most common types of cancer that spread to the liver are colorectal, lung, pancreatic, breast, melanoma, brain, prostate, esophageal and stomach cancers.

Hepatocellular and Metastatic Liver Cancer Treatments

Treatment for hepatocellular carcinoma includes liver transplantation, surgical resection, targeted chemotherapy, radiofrequency ablation, internal radiation, and external radiation.

Treatment for primary cancer that metastasizes to the liver includes many of the same approaches according to the American Cancer Society.

External radiation like treatment with CyberKnife, a form of stereotactic body radiation therapy or SBRT that targets tumors with high-dose radiation – can be used for both hepatocellular and metastatic liver cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, it’s especially helpful in certain cases:

  • Liver cancer that cannot be resected with surgery.
  • Liver cancer that did not respond to other treatments.
  • Pain from large liver tumors.
  • Those with tumors blocking the portal vein.
  • Those with metastatic liver cancer.

And it is faster and more powerful than traditional radiation, and it spares healthy tissue surrounding a tumor. Plus, it is noninvasive — so no cutting, no hospitalization, no risk of infection.

CyberKnife for Liver Cancers

CyberKnife has been used to treat liver cancers for more than two decades, according to Accuray, the maker of CyberKnife. 

CyberKnife’s missile guidance technology tracks a tumor’s movement in real time. The technology delivers radiation directly to the tumor, while leaving healthy surrounding tissue unharmed. With CyberKnife, patients often need a shorter course of treatment than with traditional radiation because SBRT is targeted radiation. Liver cancer patients typically have three to five CyberKnife treatments over a one-to-two-week period.

“The hypofractionated, high-dose SBRT treatment delivered by the CyberKnife System has emerged as a ground-breaking treatment option — showing promising efficacy with low toxicity for primary liver cancer (e.g., hepatocellular carcinoma) and metastatic liver tumors,” Accuray says on its website. Additionally, the CyberKnife System can also be used as a bridge to transplantation.” Plus, as of January 2020, SBRT for liver cancer is covered by Medicare nationwide.

Cancer Treatment Center Miami 

The cancer experts at the CyberKnife Center of Miami, a state-of the-art radiation treatment center for cancer in South Florida, know a liver cancer diagnosis – whether hepatocellular or metastatic — can be scary and unsettling.  

We are here to help. Our patients are not statistics. They are people with families and friends who love them. 

Our staff knows that treating patients with compassion and scientifically proven, state-of-the-art technology goes hand in hand. That is one of the advantages we have over other cancer treatment centers. We answer our phones and any questions you might have. Plus, our doctors and team members are experts. We are often called upon to train others how to use CyberKnife technology most effectively. A caring staff is just as important as a highly trained and experienced staff, and that we are. Which is why we do not fear taking on the toughest cancer cases that are often turned away from other cancer treatment centers.

If you are interested in learning more about CyberKnife Miami, or setting up a consultation, call us at 305-279-2900 or go to our website  www.cyberknifemiami.com.