Liver Cancer Patient Information Fact Sheet

How is liver cancer treated?
Treatment depends on (a) the type of liver cancer and (b) the amount of the liver affected by the cancer. At this time, liver cancer can be cured only when it’s found at an early stage and only if the people are healthy enough to have the surgery.

Primary liver cancers
Hepatomas. Since most hepatomas start in people who have cirrhosis, doctors will regularly screen such patients in order to detect the occurrence of a hepatoma as soon as possible. This screening may involve regular ultrasound scans and blood testing for alpha-fetoprotein (as mentioned above). A number of treatments are available. First, if the cancer is small and the liver cirrhosis is not too severe, the part of the liver containing the cancer may be removed by an operation. If the cancer is small but the cirrhosis has severely affected the liver, then occasionally a liver transplant may be considered. There are many factors that are taken into account before considering liver transplantation. Other means of treating hepatomas include injecting substances directly into the cancer to attempt to kill the cancer cells, or injecting materials into the blood supply to the cancer. This stops blood getting to the cancer cells, which should kill them, or slow their growth.

Cholangiocarcinomas. This type of primary liver cancer is very difficult to cure. The bile duct cells that have turned into a cancer often grow and block the main bile duct draining the liver. A blocked bile duct will cause jaundice. By inserting a tube (called a stent) through the blockage, the jaundice can be relieved. The size and position of the cancer can then be assessed with a view to the possibility of having an operation.