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Chemotherapy (or “chemo”) is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Usually the drugs are given into a vein or by mouth. Once the drugs get in the blood, they spread through the body. This makes them useful for cancer that has spread to distant organs.

Although chemo is sometimes used to treat liver cancer, it is often not very helpful. Most studies have shown that chemo does not help liver cancer patients live longer.

Hepatic artery infusion: Sometimes to treat liver cancer, the chemo drugs are given right into the blood vessel that feeds the tumor in the liver. This is called hepatic artery infusion (HAI). Often, the healthy liver can break down most of the chemo drug before it can reach the rest of the body. This gets more chemo to the tumor and may cause fewer or less severe side effects than giving the drugs into a vein.

Possible side effects of chemo

Chemo can have side effects like these:

  • Mouth sores
  • Loss of appetite
  • Hair loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • A higher chance of infection (from a shortage of white blood cells)
  • Easy bleeding or bruising (from a shortage of blood platelets)
  • Tiredness and shortness of breath (from low red blood cell counts)

Along with the side effects in the list above, some drugs may have their own specific side effects. Most side effects go away once treatment is over. If you have side effects, be sure to tell your doctor or nurse. There are often ways to help.

Last Medical Review: 11/19/2014
Last Revised: 02/23/2016