Liver Cancer Treatment – Know the Facts


On the day of treatment, the patient is given a mild sedative and pain medication. The radiologist makes a tiny incision in the groin—no larger than the tip of a pencil—to gain access to the femoral artery. Using moving X-ray images (fluoroscopy) as a visual guide, the physician directs a thin, flexible tube (catheter) through the artery and into the main blood vessel feeding the liver tumor. The radioactive beads are injected and carried in the bloodstream up to the tumor, where they embed and slowly kill the cancerous cells.

Hepatocellular cancer is more likely to develop in people with chronic cirrhosis. Your specialist may suggest a liver transplant if you have cirrhosis of the liver because of previous liver disease, infection with a hepatitis virus or from drinking alcohol. You will only benefit from a liver transplant if you have a single liver tumour that is less than 5cm across, or up to 3 tumours all less than 3cm across. There is an added difficulty of having to wait for a suitable donor. This can take months. During this delay, the cancer will continue to grow and you have other treatment to try to control it.

Radiofrequency ablation procedure, electric current in the radiofrequency range is used to destroy malignant cells. Using an ultrasound or CT scan as a guide, your surgeon inserts several thin needles into small incisions in your abdomen. When the needles reach the tumor, they’re heated with an electric current, destroying the malignant cells. Radiofrequency ablation is an option for people with small, unresectable hepatocellular tumors and for some types of metastatic liver cancers. Although the procedure has a somewhat higher risk of serious complications than alcohol injection does, it appears to provide better outcomes.

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Treatment of liver cancer may involve surgery, interventional radiological procedures, and chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Individual treatment depends largely on the type and extent of disease.

Alcohol injection. In this procedure, pure alcohol is injected directly into tumors, either through the skin or during an operation. Alcohol dries out the cells of the tumor and eventually the cells die. Each treatment consists of one injection, although you may need a series of injections for the best results. Alcohol injection has been shown to improve survival in people with small hepatocellular tumors. It may also be used to help reduce symptoms in cases of metastatic liver cancer. The most common side effect is leaking of alcohol onto the liver or into the abdominal cavity.

Surgery is increasingly being used for patients with secondary liver cancer. This can sometimes involve removing a segment of liver. Alternatively, keyhole techniques can be used to apply extreme cold or heat to localized areas of the liver.