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Liver cancer treatments

At Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA), our liver cancer treatments include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery, interventional radiology, gastroenterology procedures and targeted therapy. You may also be a candidate for immunotherapy. Your multidisciplinary team of liver cancer experts will answer your questions and recommend treatment options based on your unique diagnosis and needs.

Treatment options for liver cancer, the most common of which is hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), may vary widely depending on several factors, including a patient’s overall health, how much liver damage has been caused by cancer or other conditions, such as hepatitis or cirrhosis, and whether the cancer has spread elsewhere in the body.

Surgery for liver cancer

Surgery is one of the primary treatment options for hepatocellular carcinoma and other types of liver cancer. Liver cancers are classified based on whether they can be removed (resected). For example:

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Partial hepatectomy

A liver resection, or partial hepatectomy, is a surgical procedure to remove tumors in the liver. To perform an open liver resection surgery, a surgeon makes an incision below the ribcage, across the right side of the upper abdomen. An ultrasound device is used to find the liver tumor(s). The diseased portion of the liver is then removed, along with some adjoining healthy liver tissue. A partial hepatectomy may also be done as a less invasive, laparoscopic or robotic surgery procedure.

Liver transplantation

In some cases, a liver transplant may be an option for patients with liver cancer. A liver transplant may be an option if:

Hepatocellular carcinoma treatments

Other common treatments for HCC include:

Interventional radiology

In this specialty, physicians perform minimally invasive procedures to diagnose and treat a variety of diseases, including liver cancer. Interventional radiologists are trained to use image-guided technology such as X-rays, CT scans and MRI to place a catheter inside the body and treat patients non-surgically. Interventional radiology procedures that may be used to treat liver cancer include:

Ablation procedures: Treatments, such as radiofrequency ablation and microwave ablation, are designed to destroy tissue using extreme temperatures.

Liver-directed therapies: Procedures, such as Yttrium-90 radioembolization and chemoembolization, deliver treatments directly to liver tumors, and are intended to spare nearby healthy tissue and reduce side effects.

As an alternative to open surgery, interventional radiology procedures may be used to help reduce risk, pain and recovery time for patients.

Learn more about interventional radiology for liver cancer

Chemotherapy 

Chemotherapy for liver cancer may be used before surgery to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors, after surgery to target cancer cells that may have been left behind, or as a systemic treatment to treat locally advanced or metastatic liver cancer.

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Radiation therapy 

Radiation therapy for liver cancer uses targeted energy, similar to an X-ray, to destroy cancer cells, shrink tumors and/or relieve symptoms. With targeted radiation therapy delivery systems, our radiation oncologists are better able to target difficult-to-reach tumors in the liver. Also, our radiation oncologists may use advanced technology to direct higher radiation doses at liver cancer cells, while reducing exposure to normal, healthy tissue.

Learn more about radiation therapy for liver cancer

Targeted therapy 

These drugs seek out specific receptors and proteins unique to cancer cells. Once attached to targeted cancer cells, the drugs work by either killing the cells or helping other therapies, such as chemotherapy, identify and target cancer cells.

Gastroenterology 

A number of gastroenterology procedures may be recommended to treat liver cancer. They include:

Immunotherapy

Checkpoint inhibitor drugs work by blocking receptor proteins that help regulate an immune response. Signals exchanged with these receptors may allow cancer cells to hide from the immune system. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (has approved checkpoint inhibitors to treat hepatocellular carcinoma.

Cholangiocarcinoma treatments

Cholangiocarcinoma, also known as bile duct cancer, forms in the tubes that transport bile from the liver and gallbladder into the small intestine. Treatment for this type of cancer may depend on whether the cancer is found in the bile ducts inside or outside the liver. Treatments for cholangiocarcinoma include:

Surgery: The type and extent of the surgery may depend on where the cancer is found.

Gastroenterology procedures: These procedures include endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography, stent placements, balloon dilation for obstruction and photodynamic therapy.

Radiation therapy: Types of radiation therapy commonly used include external beam radiation therapy (EBRT), intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), intraoperative radiation therapy (IORT), and TomoTherapy®.

Learn more about treatments for bile duct cancer

Treatments for rare liver cancer

Treatments for rare types of liver cancer depend on varying factors, such as the type of cancer, its stage and the health of the patient and his or her liver. Rare liver cancers include:

Fibrolamellar HCC: This rare type of hepatocellular carcinoma may be more responsive to treatment than other types of liver cancer.

Angiosarcoma: This aggressive and very rare form of liver cancer is often diagnosed at an advanced stage.

Treatments options for rare liver cancers may include:

Learn more about liver cancer types

Secondary liver cancer treatments

When cancer spreads to the liver from another part of the body, the disease is considered liver metastasis, or secondary liver cancer. Along with the brain, bones and lungs, the liver is one of the most common locations in the body for cancer to spread. Liver metastases are more common than primary liver cancer. Common cancers that often spread to the liver include those of the breast, colon, rectum, lung, skin (melanoma) and kidney.

Treatment for secondary liver cancer depends on many factors, including:

Liver metastases are not considered liver cancer. Instead, the disease named for the location of the primary tumor. For instance, breast cancer that spreads to the liver is considered breast cancer, not liver cancer.

Treatment options for secondary liver cancer include:

Treatment for liver metastases, in some cases, may be considered palliative, used to relieve symptoms and improve quality of life.

Liver cancer clinical trials

Clinical trials are a critical testing ground for determining the safety and effectiveness of new treatments and drugs for cancer and many other diseases. As part of our commitment to providing innovative treatments, our doctors may recommend that you enroll in carefully selected clinical trials for liver cancer to offer you access to treatment options that may otherwise be unavailable to you.

Patients who meet specific criteria may be considered for a clinical trial on an individual basis and may qualify at any stage of disease or treatment. Talk to your doctor about whether a liver cancer clinical trial is a good option for you and ask about the risks and various requirements involved.

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Side effect management

At CTCA®, our liver cancer experts work closely with our integrative care team to proactively anticipate potential side effects and address issues so you can better tolerate treatments. Integrative care services designed to help manage liver cancer-related side effects include: 

Learn more about integrative care