Liver Cancer Overview

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Treating Liver Cancer TOPICS

Chemotherapy for liver cancer

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.

If you’d like more information on a drug used in your treatment or a specific drug mentioned in this section, see our Guide to Cancer Drugs , or call us with the names of the medicines you’re taking.

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.

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. In some cases 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 meet your medical needs, or see “Clinical Trials” to learn more.

Considering complementary and alternative methods

You may hear about alternative or complementary 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.

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 Complementary and Alternative Medicine to learn more.

Help getting through cancer 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 treatment information given here is not official policy of the American Cancer Society and is not intended as medical advice to replace the expertise and judgment of your cancer care team. It is intended to help you and your family make informed decisions, together with your doctor. Your doctor may have reasons for suggesting a treatment plan different from these general treatment options. Don't hesitate to ask him or her questions about your treatment options.


Last Medical Review: 11/19/2014
Last Revised: 01/15/2016