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 throughout 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 to live longer.

Hepatic artery infusion: Because standard chemo does not work very well for liver cancer, doctors have studied putting chemo drugs 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.

Although early studies have found that HAI works to shrink tumors, it isn’t clear that patients live longer with this treatment. A drawback of this approach is that surgery is needed to put in the catheter into the right blood vessel. Many liver cancer patients may not be able to withstand this surgery.

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: 10/07/2013
Last Revised: 02/10/2014