Radiation therapy for liver cancer

This page was reviewed under our medical and editorial policy by

Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science

This page was updated on May 20, 2022.

Radiation treatment for liver cancer requires accuracy and precision. With advanced radiation therapy delivery systems, our radiation oncologists are better able to target difficult-to-reach tumors in the liver. Also, our radiation oncologists can direct higher radiation doses at liver cancer cells, while reducing exposure to normal, healthy tissue. Examples of radiation therapies used to treat liver cancer include:

Calypso® 4D Localization System™ may allow a radiation therapist to better target the liver while sparing surrounding tissue from damage. The liver may move during radiation treatment because of breathing and normal movement in the intestines. Typically, radiation oncologists expand the treatment area to ensure the moving target is irradiated. In the process, healthy tissue in or near the liver may be affected, leading to a high risk of liver damage, stomach ulcer or other side effects.

The Calypso system is designed to show the position of the patient’s tumor 25 times a second, and automatically shut the beam off in the event of a cough, sneeze, stomach bubble or other internal change of position that moves the tumor out of the X-ray beam. By targeting cancer cells and avoiding nearby healthy tissues, Calypso helps spare the bladder, colon and other critical structures. Common side effects of liver cancer radiation therapy, such as risk of liver damage, may be reduced using Calypso technology.

TomoTherapy® may offer the following advantage for liver cancer patients:

  • It uses built-in CT scanning to confirm the exact shape and location of a liver tumor seconds before treatment begins.
  • It is designed to target hard-to-reach liver tumors by sculpting small, powerful and precise radiation beams at the tumors from a full 360 degrees.
  • It may lessen treatment-related side effects by reducing damage to nearby healthy tissue.
  • It may avoid radiation exposure to muscle tissue, the spine, lungs and other sensitive organs.

CyberKnife® robotic radiosurgery for liver cancer allows doctors to confirm the location of the liver tumor and continually track its movement, in real time, so they are better able to more precisely deliver radiation without damaging healthy surrounding tissue.

Also, unlike standard radiation therapy that divides the total radiation dose into smaller doses over numerous sessions, CyberKnife allows a therapist to destroy tumors with high radiation doses in four to five sessions, depending on the location of the tumor and other factors.

External beam radiation therapy (EBRT) delivers high-energy radiation to tumors using a special X-ray machine called a linear accelerator. This machine allows radiation to be delivered from any angle and shapes radiation beams to the contour of the tumor. EBRT is an outpatient procedure. The procedure itself is painless and poses no risk of radioactivity to you or others with whom you have contact. As you undergo EBRT, you may continue normal activities with family and friends.

Intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) uses software to plan a precise dose of radiation, based on tumor size, shape and location. Compared to standard radiotherapy, IMRT allows a radiation oncologist to use higher radiation doses than traditional therapies would allow in these areas. At the same time, IMRT helps to spare more of the surrounding healthy liver tissue from harmful doses of radiation.

TrueBeam™ allows our radiation oncologists to deliver concentrated doses of radiation to liver tumors with increased accuracy. The technology's real-time imaging enables us to monitor liver tumor motion during treatment, provide targeted radiation therapy and avoid damage to surrounding healthy tissues. In addition, TrueBeam administers treatment significantly faster than some other systems, reducing the time spent receiving radiation therapy in a treatment room.

Learn more about risk factors for liver cancer

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