Liver cancer is a type of cancer that originates in the cells of your liver, which is a football-sized organ located in your abdomen above your stomach and beneath your diaphragm. According to the American Cancer Society, there will be over 35,000 new cases of liver cancer diagnosed in 2015, with a resulting 25,000 deaths from the disease.
The earlier you are diagnosed with liver cancer, the higher your chances of successful treatment. After diagnosis, your treatment plan will depend on the type and stage of your cancer, as well as your personal preferences and overall health. Here are some of the most common treatment options for liver cancer.
Depending on the location of the cancer within your liver, your doctor may recommend a partial hepatectomy if the tumor is small and your liver function is still good. This procedure involves removing the liver cancer as well as a small portion of healthy tissue that surrounds the tumor. However, if your cancer is too large for a partial hepatectomy, you will need a complete liver transplant, which involves removing your diseased liver and replacing it with a healthy liver from a donor.
Heating or Freezing Cancer Cells
Cryoablation is a procedure that uses extreme cold to kill cancer cells. It involves placing an instrument that contains liquid nitrogen directly onto your liver tumor and freezing the cancer cells. The opposite of cryoablation, radio frequency ablation is procedure uses an electric current to destroy cancer cells using heat.
When chemotherapy drugs are delivered directly into the liver, this is called chemoembolization. This procedure involves injecting the drugs into the hepatic artery, which is where liver cancers derive their blood supply. The purpose of this procedure is to block the blood flow to the cancer cells and kill them using focused chemotherapy medications Additionally, pure alcohol can be directly injected into the tumor, which will cause the cancer cells to die.
Radiation therapy is often used before surgery to shrink a tumor or afterwards to kill any remaining cancer cells that might still remain. Sometimes stereotactic radiosurgery is used for liver cancer, which involves simultaneously focusing many beams of radiation one point in the body to kill cancer cells.
You might also choose targeted drug therapy if you have an advanced form of liver cancer that cannot be treated with surgery or other forms of treatment. This type of therapy works by interfering with a tumor’s ability to generate new blood vessels, which hinders the tumor’s ability to grow. One example of a drug used for this purpose is Nexavar (sorafenib), which is often used to control advanced liver cancer. These drugs have been shown to slow or stop some advanced types of liver cancer for several months longer than without any treatment at all.