Treating Liver Cancer
After liver cancer is diagnosed and staged, your cancer care team will discuss your treatment options with you.
Which treatments are used for liver cancer?
In creating your treatment plan, important factors to consider include the stage (extent) of the cancer and the health of the rest of your liver. But you and your cancer care team will also want to take into account the possible side effects of treatment, your overall health, and the chances of curing the disease, extending life, or relieving symptoms. Based on these factors, your treatment options may include:
- Surgery (partial hepatectomy or liver transplant)
- Tumor ablation
- Tumor embolization
- Radiation therapy
- Targeted therapy
Which doctors treat liver cancer?
Depending on your situation, you may have different types of doctors on your treatment team. These doctors may include:
- A surgeon: a doctor who treats diseases with surgery.
- A radiation oncologist: a doctor who treats cancer with radiation therapy.
- A medical oncologist: a doctor who treats cancer with medicines such as chemotherapy.
- A gastroenterologist: a doctor who specializes in treating diseases of the digestive system, including the liver.
Many other specialists may be involved in your care as well, including nurse practitioners, nurses, nutrition specialists, social workers, and other health professionals.
Making treatment decisions
It is important to discuss all of your treatment options, including their goals and possible side effects, with your doctors to help make the decision that best fits your needs. Some important things to consider include:
- Your age and expected life span
- Any other serious health conditions you have
- The stage (extent) of your cancer
- Whether or not surgery can remove (resect) the cancer
- The likelihood that treatment will cure the cancer (or help in some other way)
- Your feelings about the possible side effects from treatment
You may feel that you must make a decision quickly, but it’s important to give yourself time to absorb the information you have just learned. It’s also very important to ask questions if there is anything you’re not sure about. See What should you ask your health care team about liver cancer? for ideas.
Getting a second opinion
If time allows, you may also want to get a second opinion from another doctor or medical team. This can give you more information and help you feel more certain about the treatment plan you choose. If you aren’t sure where to go for a second opinion, ask your doctor for help.
Thinking about taking part in a clinical trial
Clinical trials are carefully controlled research studies that are done to get a closer look at promising new treatments or procedures. Clinical trials are one way to get state-of-the art cancer treatment. Sometimes they may be the only way to get access to newer treatments. They are also the best way for doctors to learn better methods to treat cancer. Still, they are not right for everyone.
If you would like to learn more about clinical trials that might be right for you, start by asking your doctor if your clinic or hospital conducts clinical trials. You can also call our clinical trials matching service at 1-800-303-5691 for a list of studies that might meet your medical needs, or see the Clinical Trials section of our website to learn more.
Considering complementary and alternative methods
You may hear about complementary or alternative methods that your doctor hasn’t mentioned to treat your cancer or relieve symptoms. These methods can include vitamins, herbs, and special diets, or other methods such as acupuncture or massage, to name a few.
Complementary methods refer to treatments that are used along with your regular medical care. Alternative treatments are used instead of a doctor’s medical treatment. Although some of these methods might be helpful in relieving symptoms or helping you feel better, many have not been proven to work. Some might even be dangerous.
As you consider your options, look for “red flags” that might suggest fraud. Does the method promise to cure all or most cancers? Are you told not to have regular medical treatments? Is the treatment a “secret” that requires you to visit certain providers or travel to another country?
Be sure to talk to your cancer care team about any method you are thinking about using. They can help you learn what is known (or not known) about the method, which can help you make an informed decision. See the Complementary and Alternative Medicine section of our website to learn more.
Choosing to stop treatment or choosing no treatment at all
For some people, when treatments have been tried and are no longer controlling the cancer, it could be time to weigh the benefits and risks of continuing to try new treatments. Whether or not you continue treatment, there are still things you can do to help maintain or improve your quality of life. Learn more in If Cancer Treatments Stop Working.
Some people, especially if the cancer is advanced, might not want to be treated at all. There are many reasons you might decide not to get cancer treatment, but it’s important to talk this through with your doctors before you make this decision. Remember that even if you choose not to treat the cancer, you can still get help for pain or other symptoms.
Help getting through treatment
Your cancer care team will be your first source of information and support, but there are other resources for help when you need it. Hospital- or clinic-based support services are an important part of your care. These might include nursing or social work services, financial aid, nutritional advice, rehab, or spiritual help.
The American Cancer Society also has programs and services – including rides to treatment, lodging, support groups, and more – to help you get through treatment. Call our National Cancer Information Center at 1-800-227-2345 and speak with one of our trained specialists on call 24 hours a day, every day.
The next few sections describe the various types of treatments used for liver cancer. This is followed by a description of the most common approaches used for these cancers based on their stage.