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Rapid liver enlargement and hepatic failure secondary to radiographic occult tumor invasion: two case reports and review of the literature

Christine Simone1, Martina Murphy1, Roger Shifrin2, Tania Zuluaga Toro3 and David Reisman1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Medicine, Division of Hematology/Oncology, University of Florida, 2033 Mowry Rd, Office 294, Gainesville, FL, 32611, USA

2 Department of Radiology, College of Medicine, University of Florida, PO Box 100374, Gainesville, FL, 32610-0374, USA

3 Department of Pathology, Immunology and Laboratory Medicine, University of Florida, Box 100275, Gainesville, FL, 32610-0275, USA

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Journal of Medical Case Reports 2012, 6:402  doi:10.1186/1752-1947-6-402

Published: 26 November 2012



Unfamiliarity with certain clinical presentations, as illustrated in these cases, can lead to delayed diagnoses that in turn cause increased morbidity, prolonged hospitalization, and the need for autopsy.

Case presentation

In Case 1, a 63-year-old Caucasian woman presented with hepatic enlargement and insufficiency which progressed and resulted in her death over a period of less than 2 weeks. The patient underwent a detailed workup included magnetic resonance imaging and computed tomography scan of her liver, which did not reveal the source of her liver enlargement. Due to her progressive liver enlargement and insufficiency, she developed a life-threatening esophageal variceal bleeding during her hospital stay which further delayed the attainment of her diagnosis. She finally underwent a videoscopic laparotomy and liver biopsy which revealed complete replacement and filling in of the liver sinuous with Indian filing lobular breast cancer. The patient died shortly after her diagnosis and before she could be discharged.

In Case 2, a 68-year-old Caucasian woman with non-small-cell lung cancer was admitted to our Oncology in-patient service with a presentation of rapid hepatic insufficiency and severe liver enlargement. Like the patient in Case 1, during her hospitalization, this patient underwent a thorough radiographic evaluation, including computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging, to identify the source of her symptoms. Radiographic imaging showed only hepatomegaly and no discrete focal lesions. As the multiple imaging studies over a period of a week did not reveal a clear cause for her symptoms, she finally underwent an interventional radiology core biopsy which showed complete replacement of her liver with non-small-cell lung cancer. Her condition rapidly progressed due to continued liver enlargement and she died due to frank liver failure before her diagnosis was affirmed and she could be discharged.


Both of these cases illustrate the potential difficulties in diagnosing liver-infiltrative malignancy and the need for a high index of clinical suspicion for occult infiltrative malignancy in the liver to determine the appropriate therapeutic intervention, including further treatment of malignancy, palliative care, or determination of candidacy for liver transplantation. Because the diagnosis for the cause of symptoms and hepatomegaly was elucidated only by liver biopsy which occurred much later in their hospital course, both patients died while in the hospital instead of at home or in a hospice. Moreover, these delays in diagnosis and development of morbidities due to the progressing liver failure further prevent any possibility of early initiation of palliative treatment. Initial recognition of this type of presentation can lead to a prompt diagnostic biopsy and diagnosis. Giving the patient a correct diagnosis is one of the fundamental goals of oncology: a goal that, as illustrated in literature review, is not always achieved. Although treatment options in such cases often may be limited, prompt discharge from the hospital and/or admission into a hospice program can potentially afford the patient the best quality of life and help protect the patient’s dignity.