David Bowie died this week of liver cancer.

David Bowie died this week of liver cancer.

The world experienced a palpable and seismic tremor of sadness at the death of David Bowie this week, who had fought an 18 month battle with cancer. As further details emerge it seems that the underlying diagnosis was of liver cancer. So what exactly is liver cancer and who gets it?


There are 2 main types of liver cancer, ‘primary’, where the cancer originates from liver and associated tissue and ‘secondary’ (or metastatic) where the cancer has spread to the liver from another site in the body. In western society, secondary is very much more common than primary, which is pretty rare.


Secondary Liver Cancer


Secondary or metastatic liver cancer is by far the most common type of liver cancer seen in developed countries. It occurs when a cancer has developed somewhere else in the body and tiny cells of the cancer break off and circulate around the body in the blood or lymphatic system. It is is likened to a plant or flower disseminating its seeds and is often referred to in medical parlance, as the cancer seeding itself.

The liver is an extremely important organ, in that it is not just the industrial manufacturing powerhouse of the body, it is also responsible for ‘cleaning’ and ‘detoxifying’ the blood and so no wonder that cancer cells frequently lodge there.

Sadly this makes treatment of cancer very difficult because if a cancer has already seeded itself to the liver, then in most circumstances, the cancer is not curable by a simple operation to remove it and often complicated and onerous courses of chemotherapy and radiotherapy are required to try and suppress or remove the cancer.


Primary Liver Cancer


This is much rarer than secondary cancer and occurs when a cancer develops actually within liver or associated tissue.

In 99% of the time, the liver is already diseased and has developed cirrhosis. The commonest causes for cirrhosis are alcohol and chronic hepatitis B or C.

Alcohol is the commonest cause of primary liver cancer in the west and chronic hepatitis B in the far east and in Africa.

In the 60s and 70s when IV drug abuse became more of a problem in the UK, then hepatitis C (still not actually identified) was passed around between the users to such an extent that nearly 100% became infected with hepatitis C. Many of these have subsequently developed liver cirrhosis and primary liver cancer. There have however, been great advances in curing patients with chronic hepatitis.


If you are worried about liver cancer in you or someone you know then ask your GP or doctor.

Dr Helen Webberley



Dr Helen Webberley

Dr Helen Webberley is an NHS GP with a practice in South Wales, and an experienced online doctor providing healthcare advice and treatment via the Internet. She is a talkhealth expert in the Online Clinics. If anyone has any queries about their health then feel free to contact her.

4 Responses to R.I.P. David Bowie – and what do we know about liver cancer?

  1. There is excellent information about all liver conditions on the British Liver Trust’s website http://www.britishlivertrust.org.uk and they also have a very supportive helpline 0800 652 7330.
    There are also support groups throughout the UK and an online support forum – more info on their website http://www.britishlivertrust.org.uk

    on November 2, 2018 at 12:36 pm Andrew Langford

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