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Treatment - Liver cancer

Treatment for liver cancer

Liver cancer is often treatable, but it can be difficult to treat.

The treatment you have will depend on:

  • if the cancer started in the liver (primary) or spread from somewhere else (secondary), but treatments for primary and secondary liver cancer are similar
  • the size and type of liver cancer you have
  • where it is
  • if it has spread
  • your general health

It may include surgery, chemotherapy, using heat to destroy the cancer (thermal ablation), and using targeted medicines.

The specialist care team looking after you will:

  • explain the treatments, benefits and side effects
  • work with you to create a treatment plan that is best for you
  • help you manage any side effects, including changes to your diet to help you digest your food

You'll have regular check-ups during and after any treatments. You may also have tests and scans.

If you have any symptoms or side effects that you are worried about, talk to your specialists. You do not need to wait for your next check-up.

Surgery

If liver cancer is found early, is small and it has not spread, you may be able to have surgery to remove it.

Surgery will remove part or all of your liver. If it is all removed you will need a liver transplant to replace your liver with a donated one.

Recovery from surgery to treat liver cancer can take a long time. The specialist team looking after you will discuss all the benefits and side effects.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy uses medicines to kill cancer cells.

For liver cancer, the chemotherapy medicine is usually given into the blood vessels of the cancer. It aims to stop the cancer growing. This is called chemoembolisation.

You'll usually have chemoembolisation to help make the cancer smaller, or to control and improve the symptoms. This is done if you are not able to have surgery because you are very unwell, or the cancer cannot be removed by surgery.

Using heat to destroy the cancer (thermal ablation)

Thermal ablation uses an electric current or microwaves to destroy the cancer.

You may have thermal ablation to treat liver cancer if you're not able to have surgery because you are very unwell, or the cancer cannot be removed by surgery.

Treatment with targeted medicines

Targeted cancer medicines aim to stop the cancer from growing.

You may have treatment with targeted medicines for liver cancer if:

  • you cannot have surgery because you are very unwell, or the cancer cannot be removed by surgery
  • the cancer has spread to another part of the body

What happens if you've been told your cancer cannot be cured

If you have advanced liver cancer it might be very hard to treat. It may not be possible to cure the cancer.

If this is the case, the aim of your treatment will be to limit the cancer and its symptoms, and help you live longer.

Finding out the cancer cannot be cured can be very hard news to take in.

You will be referred to a special team of doctors and nurses called the palliative care team or symptom control team.

They will work with you to help manage your symptoms and make you feel more comfortable.

The clinical nurse specialist or palliative care team can also help you and your loved ones get any support you need.

Information:

Find out more

Macmillan Cancer Support: end of life care

Page last reviewed: 6 May 2020
Next review due: 6 May 2023