Verified By: Dr. Rakesh Rai (American Society of Transplant Fellowship, MD, FRCS, CCST) |Updated On February 8, 2021
Table of Contents
What are the treatment options for liver cancer?
The treatment for liver cancer depends on the stage, size, and location of the tumours in the liver, whether cirrhosis is present, whether the tumour has spread to other organs. Liver transplantation is a treatment option for early-stage liver cancer. They include the following:
Operations used to treat liver cancer include:
- Surgery to remove the tumour – A surgery is performed to remove the tumour and a small portion of healthy liver tissue surrounding the tumour. Over a period of time, the remaining healthy tissue will grow again and replace the missing part.
- Liver Transplant – A liver transplant involves replacing the entire diseased liver or the diseased portion with a healthy liver from a suitable donor. A transplant can only be done if cancer has not spread to other organs. Medicines are given to prevent the rejection of donor organ after the transplant.
Ablation is performed using local anesthesia which numbs the area to prevent you from feeling any pain. Ablation can help people who are not candidates for surgery or a liver transplant. It includes the following:
- Heating cancer cells: Radiofrequency ablation uses electric current to heat and destroy cancer cells, using an ultrasound as a guide. The doctor inserts one or more thin needles through small incisions in your abdomen. After the needles reach the tumour, they are heated with an electric current and destroy the cancer cells. Other procedures to heat the cancer cells are microwaves or lasers. This is administered directly to the cancer cells or the area around the cancer cells.
- Freezing cancer cells: Cryoablation uses extreme cold to destroy cancer cells. During the procedure, your doctor will place an instrument (cryoprobe) containing liquid nitrogen directly onto liver tumours. Ultrasound images will be used to guide the cryoprobe and monitor the freezing of the cells. This is administered directly to the cancer cells or the area around the cancer cells.
Chemotherapy is done after surgery to destroy any cancer cells that may remain. It is administered through a vein in your arm, in pill form or both. Chemotherapy is used to treat advanced liver cancer, but many people experience side effects during treatment, including vomiting, decreased appetite, and chills. Chemotherapy can also increase your risk of infection.
Injecting chemotherapy drugs in the liver – Chemoembolization is another type of chemotherapy treatment that supplies strong anti-cancer drugs directly to the liver. This will be administered directly to the cancer cells or the area surrounding the cancer cells.
Radiation therapy uses high energy beams from X-rays and protons that kill cancer cells. It is delivered by external beam radiation or by internal radiation.
- In external beam radiation, the radiation is aimed directly at the abdomen and chest.
- In Internal radiation, the use of a catheter is involved to inject tiny radioactive spheres into the hepatic artery.
- The radiation destroys the hepatic artery which is a blood vessel that supplies blood to the liver, and this will decrease the amount of blood flowing to the tumour. After the hepatic artery is closed off, the portal vein continues to nourish the liver.
Radiation beads surgically implanted in the liver:
Tiny spheres containing radiation are placed directly in the liver, to deliver radiation directly to the tumour. This is administered directly to the cancer cells or the area around the cancer cells.
Targeted drug treatments focus on specific abnormalities present within the cancer cells.
- Targeted drug treatments will block these abnormalities and destroy cancer cells.
- Targeted drugs are used to treat advanced liver cancer.
- Targeted therapies only work in those people whose cancer cells have certain genetic mutations.
Immunotherapy uses your immune system to fight cancer because the cancer cells produce proteins that help them to hide from the immune system and that is why the immune system may not attack the cancer cells. Immunotherapy works by interfering with that process.
Immunotherapy treatments are reserved only for people with advanced liver cancers, recurrent cancer and cancers that have spread to other parts of the body. To know more about immunotherapy you can read this article.
Embolization is the procedure that injects substances directly into an artery in the liver, to block or reduce the blood flow to a tumour in the liver. Embolization is an option for some patients who have tumours that cannot be removed by surgery. They are done to block the hepatic artery and this can also be used with ablation. Embolization can reduce some of the blood supply to the normal liver tissue, so it may not be a good option for hepatitis or cirrhosis patients.
Supportive (palliative) care:
Palliative care is specialized medical care focusing on providing relief from pain and other symptoms of a serious illness. Palliative therapy helps to manage symptoms caused by liver cancer but is not meant to cure it. Palliative care is used while undergoing other aggressive treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Palliative care team try to control the pain levels and provide treatments that focus on the quality of life.
What is the outlook of Liver Cancer?
Follow-up care is one thing you would have to go for, once you are done with your liver cancer treatment. This will ensure that there are no recurrences or secondary cancers. This will also help you manage any long-term or delayed side effects efficiently. Life is going to change after getting diagnosed with liver cancer. For all you may know, it may not even be possible to get completely cured of liver cancer. The liver cancer treatment may help you relieve your symptoms and control the growth of those cancer cells. However, with the right mindset, proper medication and a few lifestyle changes you can have a better quality of life.
Do you want a second opinion?
How can you prepare yourself for the treatment of Liver cancer?
- The first and foremost thing that you need to do is keep yourself well informed about your cancer, this improves your quality of life as this can make the disease seem less mysterious and frightening. Information from your doctor and other credible sources can be very helpful in this respect.
- When a person is diagnosed with cancer it has an adverse effect on their emotional state, so you need to prepare yourself mentally and emotionally. This can be done by being transparent with your family and friends about how you feel, the problems you have been facing so they can help you in a better way. As a peer or a family member of the patient, you must support them at all times by listening to them patiently as they feel emotionally low.
- You can avail services of a counsellor or attend group therapies consisting of people sharing their past experiences of cancer.
- Writing down about your queries, problems, new symptoms, any physical changes, medications, past medical reports and other important things will help you to clearly express yourself to the doctor.
The checklist given below will help you in planning your treatment in India:
Frequently Asked Questions:
Does liver cancer spread quickly?
Liver cancer may spread quickly depending on the type of cancer. Hemangiosarcoma and angiosarcoma are fast-spreading cancer, whereas hepatocellular carcinoma spreads late in the disease.
What is the survival rate of liver cancer?
The overall survival rate of liver cancer patients is low and a five-year survival rate for all stages of liver cancer is only 15%, but it can vary depending on how far cancer has spread. The survival of cancer patients will depend on the stage of cancer.
Does your stomach swell with liver cancer?
Liver cancer causes swelling of the tummy (abdomen). This causes swelling on the right side of your abdomen, as the liver gets bigger from growing cancer.
Can liver cancer be detected in ultrasound?
Ultrasound is often the first test used to examine the liver. Sound waves are used to create an image on a computer screen. This test can show tumours that grow in the liver, which can later be tested for cancer (if required).
How many stages of liver cancer are there?
- Liver cancer is divided into 4 stages (from 1 to 4).
- Stage 4 liver cancer is further divided into 2 stages (stage 4A and 4B).
How long can a person live with liver cancer without knowing it?
Liver cancers can form and grow undetected for 3 years without any obvious signs or symptoms.