What happens after treatment for liver cancer?
For some people with liver cancer, treatment may remove or destroy the cancer. Completing treatment can be both stressful and exciting. You may be relieved to finish treatment, but find it hard not to worry about cancer growing or coming back. (When cancer comes back after treatment, it is called a recurrence.) This is a very common concern in people who have had cancer.
It may take a while before your fears lessen. But it may help to know that many cancer survivors have learned to live with this uncertainty and are leading full lives. Our document Living With Uncertainty: The Fear of Cancer Recurrence, gives more detailed information on this.
For others, liver cancer may never go away completely. You may still get regular treatments to try to help keep the cancer in check. Learning to live with cancer that does not go away can be difficult and very stressful. It has its own type of uncertainty. Our document When Cancer Doesn’t Go Away, talks more about this.
Even after you have completed treatment, your doctors will still need to watch you closely. It is very important to go to all follow-up appointments. During these visits, your doctors will ask about symptoms, do physical exams, and may order blood tests, such as alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) levels, liver function tests (LFTs). Imaging tests, such as ultrasound, CT, or MRI scans might also be ordered.
If you have been treated with a surgical resection or a liver transplant and have no signs of cancer remaining, most doctors recommend follow-up with imaging tests and blood tests every 3 to 6 months for the first 2 years, then every 6 to 12 months. Follow-up is needed to check for cancer recurrence or spread, as well as possible side effects of certain treatments.
This is the time for you to ask your health care team any questions you need answered and to discuss any concerns you might have.
Almost any cancer treatment can have side effects. Some may last for a few weeks to several months, but others can last the rest of your life. Don't hesitate to tell your cancer care team about any symptoms or side effects that bother you so they can help you manage them effectively.
It is important to keep health insurance. Health care costs a lot, and even though no one wants to think of their cancer coming back, this could happen.
If your cancer does come back, treatment will depend on the location of the cancer, what treatments you've had before, and your overall health and liver function. For more information on how recurrent cancer is treated, see the section “Treatment of liver cancer, by stage.” For more general information on dealing with a recurrence, you might also want to see the American Cancer Society document When Your Cancer Comes Back: Cancer Recurrence. You can get this document by calling 1-800-227-2345.
Follow-up after a liver transplant
A liver transplant can be very effective at treating the cancer and replacing a damaged liver. But this is a major procedure that requires intense follow-up after treatment. Along with monitoring your recovery from surgery and looking for possible signs of cancer recurrence, your medical team will watch you closely to make sure your body is not rejecting the new liver.
You will need to take strong medicines to help prevent the rejection. These medicines can have their own side effects, including weakening your immune system, which can make you more likely to get infections.
Your transplant team should tell you what to watch for in terms of symptoms and side effects and when you need to contact them. It is very important to follow their instructions closely.
If you have hepatitis B or C that may have contributed to your liver cancer, your doctor may want to put you on medicines to treat or help control the infection.
Seeing a new doctor
At some point after your cancer diagnosis and treatment, you may find yourself seeing a new doctor who does not know about your medical history. It is important that you can give your new doctor the details of your diagnosis and treatment. Gathering these details soon after treatment may be easier than trying to get them at some point in the future. Make sure you have this information handy:
- A copy of your pathology report(s) from any biopsies or surgeries
- Copies of imaging tests (CT or MRI scans, etc.), which can usually be stored on a CD, DVD, etc.
- If you had surgery, a copy of your operative report(s)
- If you stayed in the hospital, a copy of the discharge summary that doctors prepare when patients are sent home
- If you had radiation therapy, a summary of the type and dose of radiation and when and where it was given
- If you had chemotherapy or targeted therapies, a list of your drugs, drug doses, and when you took them
The doctor may want copies of this information for his records, but always keep copies for yourself.
Last Medical Review: 11/18/2014
Last Revised: 01/13/2015