Radiation therapy is used to treat tumors of the liver that can’t be removed with surgery and that are too large for other treatment options. Radiation therapy alone isn’t a cure for liver cancer, but it has been shown to improve survival.
Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high energy beams to kill cancer cells and destroy tumors. It isn’t typically one of the first treatment options used for liver cancer. However, it can be a good option for tumors that can’t be removed with surgery and that are too large for other treatments, such as
Radiation therapy is painless and can be done in quick outpatient sessions. Most side effects are mild and will fade within a few weeks after radiation is complete.
In this article, we review how radiation therapy is used to treat liver cancer, including what the procedure is like, possible side effects, and success rates.
It isn’t used as often for liver cancer as it is for some types of cancer. While it is not typically one of the first treatment choices, it is an option that can be very beneficial for some people.
Radiation therapy is a good option for people who have liver cancer tumors that are unable to be removed with treatments such as surgery, embolization, or ablation.
It can also be an option when liver cancer has spread beyond the liver and into the bones or other parts of the body. Other times radiation therapy might be used include:
- when someone with liver cancer is in pain due to a large tumor
- when a collection of liver cancer cells is blocking a vein
- when cancer isn’t responding to other treatments
Receiving radiation therapy is typically painless. It is similar to receiving an X-ray and is done as an outpatient procedure in a hospital or clinic.
Radiation treatments only take about 15 minutes. Some types of radiation are given 5 days a week for several weeks, while other forms and doses of radiation can be completed in 5–10 sessions. Your doctor will let you know which form of radiation you’re having.
Before your first radiation treatment, you’ll have a preparation appointment. At this appointment, you’ll have imaging tests such as CT scans and ultrasounds to pinpoint the exact location of the tumor. A radiation therapist might use a skin marker or another tool to indicate where to aim the radiation machine during your treatments.
During treatment, you’ll lie on a cushioned table, and the radiation machine will aim beams at your liver. From the next room, a radiation therapist will observe you and guide the machine. You’ll be able to talk to them through an intercom and let them know if you feel any discomfort.
The possible side effects of radiation treatment for liver cancer include:
Typically, these side effects are temporary. Most people see relief within a few weeks of stopping radiation treatment.
A serious complication of radiation treatment for liver cancer called
RILD normally develops 3–4 months after radiation treatment. When severe, it can be fatal. Inform your doctor right away if you’ve had radiation treatment and notice any unusual symptoms.
Radiation therapy for liver cancer is typically used in the later stages of liver cancer and when other treatments have not been successful. It’s not typically a first-line treatment, and it’s not used with the intent to completely cure liver cancer.
There are multiple other treatments for liver cancer. The treatments you receive depend on factors such as stage at diagnosis, tumor location, and size.
You may undergo one or more of the following treatments before radiation therapy:
Radiation therapy uses high energy beams to kill cancer cells. As a treatment for liver cancer, it can help destroy tumors that can’t be surgically removed and that are too large for other treatment options, such as ablation or embolization.
Radiation therapy is done in quick outpatient sessions and may be painless. Typical side effects include nausea, loss of appetite, and skin reactions. For most people, side effects resolve within a few weeks after the end of radiation treatments.
Radiation isn’t a cure for liver cancer, but it has been shown to improve survival, especially when used alongside other treatment options.