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Oncologists are changing how liver metastases are treated

As recently as 20 years ago, the outlook for patients whose colon or other cancers had metastasized, or spread, to the liver was bleak.

Many general practitioners and oncologists saw these metastases as untreatable and began to provide treatment to merely improve the patient’s quality of life.

New medical, surgical and radiation technologies have allowed a shift in the treatment of liver metastases, allowing surgeons to extend not only the quality, but length of patients’ lives.

“We really want to change the dialogue about liver metastases,” Dr. Carl Schmidt, WVU Cancer Institute chief of surgical oncology, said. “The technology for treatment has changed rapidly and there are many providers out there who aren’t aware of what we are able to do.”

The traditional approach to metastatic colon cancer was to treat the initial tumor and not the metastases, but . Schmidt said that view has changed.

“If a patient comes to us with metastases to the liver, our priority would be to treat the tumor in the liver first, whether surgically, radiologically, or through chemotherapy,” Schmidt said. “We want to address the issue that is the most life-threatening and preserve organ function.”

Colon cancer commonly spreads to the liver before other areas of the body, making it easier for oncologists to treat the metastases before they spread further.

Available treatments for liver metastases include:

  • Surgical resection, often minimally invasive
  • Ablation, which uses heat energy to kill the tumor
  • Hepatic artery infusion pump, which delivers chemotherapy directly to the liver
  • Placement of radiation spheres or chemotherapy spheres that target the tumor
  • Embolization of the veins that provide blood to the tumor
  • Targeted high-dose focused radiation

“The technologies that have been developed recently have changed how we look at the treatability of these tumors,” Schmidt said. “Tumors that were previously viewed as untreatable are now treatable. We are able to give these patients more time with their families and loved ones. Colon cancer that metastasizes to the liver no longer has to be the end of the road for these patients.”

For more information about available treatments, visit, or call 1-855-WVU-CARE.

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