Our patient had a rare presentation of metastatic melanoma to the liver associated with fulminant liver failure, shock, and multisystem organ failure. Although acute liver failure has been reported subsequent to infiltration of the liver by lymphoma , breast , gastric , and lung cancer , there are only rare patients with melanoma associated with fulminant hepatic failure. We conducted an English language search of MEDLINE using the terms hepatic failure and melanoma and only identified four cases of melanoma associated with liver failure [2–5]. The natural history of acute liver failure is typically a rapid progression of liver dysfunction leading to multi-organ failure and subsequently death. Significant rise in lactate dehydrogenase was seen in our patient and this has been previously reported as an ominous sign of acute liver failure [2, 5].
The patient's biochemical derangements of severe hyperkalemia, acidosis, hyperphosphatemia, hyperuricemia, hypocalcemia and markedly elevated lactate dehydrogenase most likely represent the natural progression of acute liver failure due to massive hepatic necrosis secondary to tumor burden. However, the patient's biochemical profile can also be seen in tumor lysis syndrome. Tumor lysis syndrome has been reported as a complication of malignant melanoma, however in the context of treatment with chemotherapy [10, 11] and corticosteroids . No cases of tumor lysis syndrome have ever been reported to occur spontaneously from malignant melanoma infiltration of the liver. However, spontaneous development of tumor lysis syndrome in other solid tumors without exposure to chemotherapy has been reported in the literature [13–15]. Whether the rapid deterioration of the patient was completely attributable to fulminant hepatic failure or a component of tumor lysis syndrome was involved, this case highlights the potential aggressiveness of malignant melanoma.
The underlying pathophysiology of the acute liver failure in our patient was likely secondary to ischemic injury arising from infiltration of the sinusoids and invasion of hepatic vessels. Hepatic ischemia has been proposed as the mechanism by which lymphoma may cause fulminant hepatic failure [16, 17] and is supported by the marked rise in aspartate aminotransferase and lactate dehydrogenase seen in our patient.
In summary, we report an unusual case of fulminant hepatic failure associated with multisystem organ failure resulting from metastatic melanoma replacing the vast majority of the liver. Although rare, our case would portend that malignant melanoma metastasizing to the liver can cause fulminant hepatic failure. Thus, in patients with a history of malignancy who present in acute liver failure clinical suspicion for malignant infiltration of the liver should be considered and ruled out before referral for consideration for liver transplantation.