How is liver cancer treated?

Liver cancer may be treated using one or more methods: surgery, chemotherapy, loco-regional therapy, percutaneous ethanol injection and even liver transplantation.

Certain factors can affect treatment and prognosis (chance of recovery) for a person who has liver cancer. These factors include the person’s general health, the way that the liver itself is functioning, the stage of the cancer, and the levels of alpha-fetoprotein.

Surgical treatments
  • Radiofrequency ablation: using a probe with electrodes that kills cancerous tissue
  • Partial hepatectomy: removing part of the liver, ranging from a smaller wedge to an entire lobe
  • Loco-regional therapy: injecting chemotherapy- or radiation-emitting beads into the blood vessel feeding the tumor
  • Total hepatectomy and liver transplant: removing the whole liver and replacing it with one from an organ donor

Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells or to prevent them from reproducing. Chemotherapy may be systemic (pills or injections that travel through the entire body).

Another type of chemotherapy for liver cancer is known as chemoembolization (part of loco-regional therapy) of the hepatic artery, in which the chemotherapy drug is combined with another substance to block the artery. The purpose of this therapy is to starve the tumor of blood in order to kill it, and to apply chemotherapy directly to the tumor. The liver’s blood flow is maintained by the hepatic portal vein.

Percutaneous ethanol injection

This therapy involves an injection of ethanol (alcohol) into a tumor to destroy the cancer. This therapy is not used very often.

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