Liver cancer and pancreatic cancer are two different types of cancer. However, pancreatic cancer can often spread to the liver.

Medical professionals determine the type of cancer by the type of cells it started in. Cancer that started in the cells of the pancreas is pancreatic cancer, whereas cancer that started in the liver is liver cancer.

Even if the cancer spreads, professionals class it as its original type. For example, pancreatic cancer that spreads to the liver is still pancreatic cancer.

The liver is the most common site that pancreatic cancer spreads to.

This article looks at the association between pancreatic and liver cancer, along with symptoms, treatment options, and more.

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Pancreatic cancer can often spread to the liver. Experts call this liver metastasis.

Because people may not display early symptoms of pancreatic cancer, by the time they receive a diagnosis, it has often metastasized to the liver.

However, if cancer originates in the pancreas and spreads to the liver, medical professionals still refer to it as pancreatic cancer.

Learn more

Learn more about pancreatic cancer.

People with pancreatic cancer often do not display any symptoms in the early stages. By the time symptoms appear, the cancer may have grown or spread outside the pancreas.

Jaundice, a yellowing of the eyes or skin, is often the first symptom.

Other pancreatic cancer symptoms include:

Advanced pancreatic cancer that has spread may cause symptoms such as fatigue, blood clots, or an abdominal fluid known as ascites.

Recognizing risk factors may be helpful for understanding how often medical professionals should monitor the pancreas and liver.

A family history of pancreatic or other cancers is a known risk factor. In these cases, medical professionals can provide genetic testing.

Learn more about genetic testing for pancreatic cancer here.

Treatment options for pancreatic cancer include:

When pancreatic cancer has spread to the liver or other organs, medical professionals consider it advanced. In some advanced cases, surgery, or resection, is not an option.

Current guidelines do not recommend surgery for pancreatic liver metastasis. However, a 2020 review indicates that it may benefit some people who are good candidates for the surgery.

Tumor ablation or embolization are options for patients unable to have surgery. Medical professionals commonly use these when pancreatic cancer has spread to the liver, and they may include:

  • heating the tumor (radio waves or microwaves)
  • freezing the tumor
  • killing the tumor by blocking the blood supply that feeds the liver

Since 2011, medical professionals may use chemotherapy as a primary treatment or a neoadjuvant treatment option (meaning they give it before the primary treatment).

Radiation and chemotherapy are the most common treatments experts use to shrink or slow the growth and spread of pancreatic cancer cells. However, they do not consider this a cure.

Other treatments, such as pain management, may also prevent or relieve symptoms.

When cancer has spread to the liver, medical professionals class this as distant. The 5-year survival rate for distant pancreatic cancer is 3%.

A 5-year relative survival rate compares people with the same stage and type of cancer with the overall population.

This means that a person with distant pancreatic cancer has a 3% chance of living for 5 years after their diagnosis in comparison with the overall population.

Survival rates can provide a better understanding of how likely it is that treatment will be successful. However, they do not give an accurate overview of a person’s case because many factors can contribute to someone’s outlook.

There is currently no specific established screening for the early detection of pancreatic cancer, though doctors can use many tests to confirm a diagnosis, including:

In a 2020 systematic review, researchers found MRI was more sensitive than CT for detecting pancreatic cancer that has spread to the liver.

It is essential for a person to ask a doctor or medical team questions to understand the diagnosis, treatment options, and care plan.

Some questions a person with pancreatic cancer may want to ask include:

  • What is the stage of my cancer? Is it removable by surgery?
  • If I’m concerned about cost and coverage, who can help?
  • How much experience do you have treating pancreatic cancer?
  • What’s the goal of each treatment, and what can I expect?
  • What should I do to be ready for treatment?
  • How long will treatment last? What will it be like?
  • What are the risks and side effects? How long will they last?

Receiving a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer that has spread to the liver can be difficult, and a person may need financial and emotional support.

Pancreatic cancer that has spread to the liver may require multiple treatments, as well as dedicated recovery time. A few popular options for support include:

Organizations that provide information and emotional support include The American Cancer Society and The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.

The liver is the most common site that pancreatic cancer spreads to.

Because people often do not display early symptoms of pancreatic cancer, by the time they receive a diagnosis, it has often spread (or metastasized) to the liver.

A medical team can explain symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options.

The survival rate for pancreatic cancer in the liver may be low, but there are a variety of options for support.