The liver is a very delicate organ in the human body. When cancerous cells affect the liver, proper care is needed. Depending on the stage of the cancer and the patient’s preferences, the doctors can decide on the best care to be administered. Eventually, the cancer can be eliminated or the patient’s health can be improved.
When a tumor is found at an early stage and the patient’s liver is working well, treatment is aimed at trying to eliminate the cancer. The care plan may also include treatment for symptoms and side effects, an important part of cancer care. When liver cancer is found at a later stage, or the patient’s liver is not working well, the patient and doctor should talk about the goals of each treatment recommendation. At this point, the goals of treatment may focus on slowing growth of the cancer and relieving symptoms to improve quality of life.
The various disease-directed treatment options can be grouped according to whether they may cure the cancer or will improve survival but will most likely not eliminate the cancer.
Descriptions of the most common treatment options, both disease-directed and those aimed at managing side effects and symptoms, are listed below. Take time to learn about your treatment options and be sure to ask questions about things that are unclear. Also, talk about the goals of each treatment with your doctor and what you can expect while receiving the treatment. Learn more about
making treatment decisions
Liver cancer can be handled in different ways. Surgery is one of the ways that is used to treat liver cancer. Depending on the intensity of the cancer and the rate of spreading, the cancerous part can be removed or the entire liver can be replaced.
Standard surgery, or hepatectomy, is the surgical removal of the part of the liver affected by cancer. This procedure can only be performed in people who do not have severe liver damage and whose cancer has not spread to the blood vessels of the liver or other parts of the body.
Liver transplants are done most often in people whose tumors are very small, few in number, do not involve blood vessels and have not spread outside the liver. These tumors usually cannot be removed by surgery because of advanced cirrhosis. To receive a transplant, a suitable donor with a healthy liver must be found.
If the tumor is detected early enough and it is still small, surgery is not necessary. Instead, ablation is used to destroy the cancer cells while also destroying some normal tissues around it which would otherwise propagate the spread of the cancer cells. This method is however not recommended to be used if the tumor is near delicate tissues or major blood vessels.
Ablation is treatment that destroys liver tumors without removing them. These techniques are used in patients with a few small tumors and when surgery is not a good option (often because of poor health or reduced liver function). They are less likely to cure the cancer than surgery, but they can still be very helpful for some people. These treatments are also sometimes used in patients waiting for a liver transplant.
Ablation is best used for tumors no larger than about 3 cm across (a little over an inch). For slightly larger tumors (3 to 5 cm across), it may be used along with embolization (see next section). Because ablation often destroys some of the normal tissue around the tumor, it might not be a good choice for treating tumors near major blood vessels, the diaphragm, or major bile ducts.
People getting this type of treatment typically do not require a hospital stay. Often, ablation can be done without surgery by inserting a needle or probe into the tumor through the skin. The needle or probe is guided into place with ultrasound or CT scanning. Sometimes, though, to be sure the treatment is aimed at the right place, it may be done during surgery.