Liver Cancer: Treatment Choices
Many types of treatment can be used for liver cancer. Which may work best for you? It depends on a number of factors. These include the type, size, location, and stage of your cancer. Other important factors include your age and, overall health, how well the rest of your liver is working, and what side effects you’ll find acceptable.
Learning about your treatment options
You may have questions and concerns about your treatment options. You may also want to know how you’ll feel and function after treatment, and if you’ll have to change your normal activities.
Your healthcare provider is the best person to answer your questions. He or she can tell you what your treatment choices are, how successful they’re expected to be, what the risks and side effects are, and the goal of treatment. Your healthcare provider may recommend a certain treatment. Or he or she may offer more than one, and ask you to decide which one you’d like to use. It can be hard to make this decision. It’s important to take the time you need to make the best decision.
Talk with your healthcare provider about how much time you can take to explore your options. You may want to get a second opinion before deciding on your treatment plan. You may also want to involve your family and friends in this process.
Understanding the goals of treatment for liver cancer
For some liver cancers, the goal of treatment is to cure the cancer. If a cure isn’t possible, treatment may be used to shrink the cancer or keep it under control. Treatment can also improve your quality of life by helping to control symptoms caused by the cancer. The goals of liver cancer treatment can include 1 or more of these:
Remove the cancer in the liver (or the entire liver)
Stop the growth or spread of liver cancer cells
Prevent or delay the cancer's return
Ease symptoms from the cancer, such as pain or blockages
Types of treatment for liver cancer
Here is an overview of the most common treatments used for liver cancer.
Surgery offers the best chance to cure liver cancer. But only a small percentage of people can have surgery. If the cancer is small and in only one part of the liver (and the rest of the liver is healthy enough), the part of the liver with the cancer can be removed. This surgery is called a partial hepatectomy.
Another option might be to remove the entire liver and replace it with a liver transplant. Again, the cancer must only be in the liver. It can't be in nearby tissues or other parts of the body, and a donated liver must be found.
Tumor ablation and embolization
These techniques can be used to treat some tumors in the liver. Ablation involves using heat (such as in radiofrequency ablation or RFA), cold (cryoablation), or other methods to destroy tumors rather than removing them.
Embolization is used to cut off a tumor's blood supply. A substance is injected into the blood vessel going to the tumor. Sometimes this is combined with radiation (radioembolization) or chemotherapy (chemoembolization). In this case, the radioactive particles or chemo are put through the blood vessel into the tumor and then the blood vessel is blocked off. This traps the radiation or chemo in the tumor and cuts off the blood supply.
Radiation uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells. It’s used mainly when surgery can't be done or other treatments aren't good options.
This type of treatment uses medicines that target certain proteins, genes, or cell functions that help cancer cells grow. It’s used mainly for liver cancers that can't be removed with surgery.
The goal of chemotherapy is to stop cancer from growing or spreading. It does this by using medicines to kill the cells or stop them from dividing. Chemotherapy doesn't work very well to treat liver cancer, but it may be used to treat advanced liver cancer.
Your healthcare provider may suggest treatments that help ease your symptoms, but don’t treat the cancer. These can sometimes be used along with other treatments. Or your healthcare provider may suggest supportive care if he or she believes that available treatments are more likely to do you more harm than good.
Clinical trials for new treatments
Researchers are always looking for new ways to treat liver cancer. These new methods are tested in clinical trials. Talk with your healthcare provider to find out if there are any clinical trials you should consider.
Talking with your healthcare provider
At first, thinking about treatment options may seem overwhelming. Talk with your healthcare team and loved ones. Make a list of questions. Consider the benefits and side effects of each option. Talk about your concerns with your healthcare provider before making a decision.