The treatment plan for liver cancer can vary depending on the stage, size, and location of the tumor. Common options include surgery, ablation, cryotherapy, immunotherapy, and targeted drug therapy.

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Liver cancer is a type of cancer that causes a tumor to grow in your liver. Several different types of liver cancer include hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common type.

Treatment for liver cancer depends on factors such as the type, size of the tumor, stage at diagnosis, and your overall health.

Typically, treatment options include liver transplant, ablation, injections, targeted therapy, immunotherapy, radiation, and chemotherapy.

The goal of liver cancer treatment depends on several factors. One of the primary factors is the stage of liver cancer.

For instance, if healthcare professionals find liver cancer at a very early stage, the goal will be curing the cancer with a tumor-removal surgery.

However, if your cancer is found in late-stage and has spread throughout your body, the goal will be slowing the spread and reducing your symptoms.

Learn more about liver cancer.

Several different treatment options for liver cancer are available. The best treatment plan for you depends on factors such as the stage of liver cancer, your overall health, the exact location of the tumor, and your response to treatment.

Surgery can sometimes remove small tumors. During tumor removal surgery, a surgeon might also cut out a small portion of the liver tissue that surrounds the tumor to ensure no cancer cells remain.

This type of surgery can’t remove all small tumors. For instance, it can be unsafe to remove tumors that grow close to major blood vessels.

Risks of tumor removal surgery

The possible risks of tumor removal surgery can include:

  • bleeding
  • blood clots
  • damage to the liver
  • infection
  • pneumonia
  • anesthesia complications
  • recurrent liver cancer

A liver transplant replaces your entire liver with a new, healthy liver. It’s sometimes an option for people with early-stage liver cancer.

Risks of liver transplant surgery

Risks of a liver transplant include:

Radiofrequency ablation is a treatment that uses heat currents to destroy tumors.

Healthcare professionals do it using needles and an ultrasound device. They insert the needles through small incisions made in the abdomen and guided by ultrasound to the tumor. An electric current heats the needles and then kills cancer cells.

Risks of radiofrequency ablation

Risks of radiofrequency ablation include:

Cryoablation is a process that uses cold temperatures to kill tumors. It uses ultrasound and a device called a cryoprobe, which healthcare professionals insert into liver tumors. The cryoprobe contains liquid nitrogen, which keeps it frozen and destroys cancer cells.

Risks of cryoablation

Risks of cryoablation include:

  • bleeding
  • infection
  • damage to the surrounding area
  • fluid collection in the surrounding area
  • nerve damage
  • complications from anesthesia

Beyond extreme temperatures, additional treatments work by inserting a needle or probe into the liver tumor. These treatments allow doctors to inject a known cancer-fighting substance directly into the tumor. They include:

  • Chemoembolization: During chemoembolization, healthcare professionals inject chemotherapy medication directly into the liver tumor.
  • Radiation beads: Doctors can insert radiation beads into a tumor. The beads can emit radiation‌ to destroy cancer cells.

Risks of injections

Injection treatments can have some of the same risks as the traditional forms of the treatments, along with the risks of direct insertion.

For instance, chemoembolization can cause side effects commonly linked to chemotherapy, such as nausea, vomiting, and general malaise. It also carries the risk of bleeding and infecting at the insertion site.

Similarly, radiation beads can lead to fever, fatigue, and pain, along with the risk of infection and bleeding.

During radiation treatments, high powered X-ray energy kills cancer cells. It can help stop cancer from spreading throughout the body.

Radiation therapy risks

Known risks of radiation therapy include:

Targeted drug therapy is a cancer treatment that blocks specific irregularities in cancer cells. When medications find those irregularities, they can destroy those cells.

Targeted drug therapy can help reduce the symptoms of liver cancer and might slow down its progression.

Targeted drug therapy risks

The risks of targeted drug therapy can include:

Immunotherapy is a treatment that teaches your immune system to fight cancer cells. It helps your body find cancer cells so that your immune system can destroy them.

It can help reduce symptoms and slow down cancer progression.

Immunotherapy risks

Risks of immunotherapy can include:

Some people choose to look into alternative treatments for liver cancer. They report that these treatments help manage symptoms such as pain (but will most likely not reduce the size of the tumor).

Common options include:

The outlook for liver cancer treatment varies and depends on factors such as the treatment you have, the stage of the liver cancer, your age, your overall health, and your genetics.

The American Cancer Society reports that the 5-year survival rate for people diagnosed with liver and bile duct cancers at any stage was 21.6%.

When cancers were diagnosed early, the survival rate rose to 37.3%, while the 5-year survival rate for late-stage diagnosis was 3.6%.

Multiple treatment options for liver cancer are available. The right course of treatment depends on the stage of the liver cancer and factors such as the size and location of the tumor.

Treatment options can include surgery, ablation, immunotherapy, targeted drug therapy, and radiation. Your doctor can explain your treatment options and prognosis.