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At this time, surgery offers the only likely chance to cure liver cancer. Surgery is done either to remove the tumor or to do a liver transplant.

Removing part of the liver (partial hepatectomy)

Surgery to remove the part of the liver with the cancer is called a partial hepatectomy. This can be used to treat a single tumor that has not grown into blood vessels in someone who does not have poor liver function. Many patients with early stage liver cancers cannot have this surgery because they do not have enough healthy liver to be able to remove even part of it to get rid of the cancer.

Risks and side effects: The most serious risk of this surgery is bleeding, both during and after surgery. The other major risk is that removing some of the liver won’t leave enough healthy liver behind for it to function well. This can lead to liver failure. Another concern is that because the remaining liver still contains the damage that led to the cancer, a new liver cancer may develop later.

Liver transplant

A liver transplant may be an option for some people with small liver cancers. Transplant is usually only an option for patients with 1 to 3 small tumors that cannot be totally removed, either because of where they are found or because their liver function is poor.

Patients often must wait a long time – often too long – for a liver to be found for transplant. For this reason, doctors often suggest other treatments (like ablation or embolization) while a person is waiting for a new liver.

Possible risks and side effects of a liver transplant: People who get a liver transplant have the same surgery risks as listed above. They also have to be given drugs to help suppress their immune system and prevent rejection of the new organ. These drugs have their own risks and side effects, especially the risk of getting serious infections.

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