Living as a Liver Cancer Survivor
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.
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. Learn more in Managing Cancer as a Chronic Illness.
Ask your doctor for a survivorship care plan
Talk with your doctor about developing a survivorship care plan for you. This plan might include:
- A suggested schedule for follow-up exams and tests
- A schedule for other tests you might need in the future, such as early detection (screening) tests for other types of cancer, or tests to look for long-term health effects from your cancer or its treatment
- A list of possible late- or long-term side effects from your treatment, including what to watch for and when you should contact your doctor
- Diet and physical activity suggestions
Even after you have completed liver cancer treatment, your doctors will want to watch you closely. It is very important to go to all follow-up appointments. During these visits, your doctors will ask you if you are having any problems , do physical exams and 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.
Almost any cancer treatment can have side effects. Some might only last a few weeks or months, but others can last a long time. . 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.
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.
Keeping health insurance and copies of your medical records
Even after treatment, it’s very important to keep health insurance. Tests and doctor visits cost a lot, and even though no one wants to think of their cancer coming back, this could happen.
At some point after your cancer diagnosis and treatment, you might find yourself seeing a new doctor who does not know about your medical history. It’s important to keep copies of your medical records to give your new doctor the details of your diagnosis and treatment.
Can I lower my risk of liver cancer progressing or coming back?
If you have (or have had) liver cancer, you probably want to know if there are things you can do that might lower your risk of the cancer coming back, or of getting a new skin cancer.
Adopting healthy behaviors such as not smoking, eating well, being active, and staying at a healthy weight might help as well, but no one knows for sure. However, we do know that these types of changes can have positive effects on your health that can extend beyond your risk of liver or other cancers.
Last Medical Review: March 31, 2016 Last Revised: April 28, 2016