How is liver cancer treated?

If you have liver cancer, your treatment and chance of recovery (also called prognosis) may depend on certain things. These include your general health, how well your liver is working, the stage of the cancer that you have and your levels of alpha-fetoprotein.

Liver cancer may be treated using one or more methods: surgery, loco-regional therapy, different types of drug therapy, and even liver transplantation.

Surgical treatments
  • Partial hepatectomy: Removing part of the liver, ranging from a smaller wedge to an entire lobe.
  • Total hepatectomy and liver transplant: Removing the whole liver and replacing it with one from an organ donor.
Other treatments
  • Ablation therapy: Destroying tumors in the liver without taking them out. There are several ways to do this, like cryoablation, microwave ablation, radiofrequency ablation and ethanol ablation.
  • Chemotherapy: Using drugs to kill cancer cells or stop them from reproducing. Chemotherapy may be systemic (pills or injections that travel through the entire body).
  • Targeted therapy: Using drugs that zero in on the cancer genes or tissue. Targeted therapy is different than chemotherapy.
  • Immunotherapy: Using drugs that direct the body’s immune system to kill cancer cells. It, too, is different than chemotherapy.
  • Loco-regional therapy: Injecting beads that give off radiation into the blood vessel that is feeding the tumor (radioembolization). Another version of this type of therapy is called chemoembolization of the hepatic artery. The chemotherapy drug is combined with the beads to block the artery.

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