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Understanding and Managing Liver Cancer: Treatment Options and Prevention

Liver cancer is considered one of the most life-threatening diseases and one of the fastest-growing cancers in the United States. There are two types of liver cancer: primary and secondary. Primary liver cancer develops inside the liver, while secondary liver cancer spreads to the liver from another part of the body. However, there are several treatments available for liver cancer. Let's explore these treatment options below.

The liver is the largest internal organ in the human body, roughly the size of an American football. It plays a vital role in digestion and detoxifying harmful substances. However, the liver is susceptible to various problems, including liver cancer, if not properly cared for. Liver cancer can either originate within the liver or metastasize to other parts of the body. Fortunately, there are treatments for liver cancer once it has been diagnosed in a patient.

Let's delve into the different treatment options at various stages of liver cancer:

Diagnosis of Liver Cancer

To diagnose liver cancer in a patient, several tests and procedures must be performed, including:

  1. Blood tests: These can reveal abnormalities in liver function.

  2. Imaging tests: Your doctor may recommend imaging tests such as ultrasound, CT scans, and MRI scans.

  3. Liver tissue sampling: In some cases, it is necessary to extract a piece of liver tissue for laboratory testing to confirm a diagnosis of liver cancer.


Potentially Resectable or Transplantable Liver Cancer

If a patient's liver cancer is in its early stages and the rest of the liver is healthy, surgery or a partial hepatectomy may offer a cure. Only a small number of patients fall into this category. Key factors affecting the outcome include tumor size and whether nearby blood vessels have been affected. Larger tumors or those involving blood vessels may recur in the liver or spread elsewhere post-surgery. The functionality of the liver and the patient's overall health also play a significant role.

A liver transplant may be an option for some patients, especially if their liver is not in good health. Transplantation might also be considered if the tumor is located in a part of the liver that is difficult to remove. However, patients awaiting a liver transplant often face a long waiting period for a suitable donor organ. During this waiting period, other treatments, like ablation and embolization, are used to control the cancer.

Unresectable Liver Cancer

Unresectable liver cancer refers to cancer that has not spread to other parts of the body, such as the lymph nodes, but cannot be surgically removed due to the following reasons:

  • The tumor is too large to be safely removed.

  • The tumor is located in a part of the liver that is challenging to access surgically.

  • There are multiple tumors, or the cancer has spread extensively throughout the liver.

  • The patient's overall health is not suitable for liver surgery.

In such cases, treatment options for liver cancer include ablation and embolization, along with targeted therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and radiation therapy. It's important to note that these treatments are unlikely to cure liver cancer but can alleviate symptoms and extend a patient's life.

Advanced Liver Cancer

In advanced liver cancer, the disease has spread to the lymph nodes or other organs, rendering surgery impractical. For patients in this stage, treatment options include:

  • The immunotherapy drug atezolizumab (Tecentriq) is combined with the targeted drug bevacizumab (Avastin).

  • One of the targeted drugs is sorafenib (Nexavar) or lenvatinib (Lenvima).


Liver cancer treatments do not always provide complete resolution and can be painful. It is essential for individuals, especially men, to undergo cancer screening for early detection, as early treatment offers a better prognosis. Remember, prevention is better than cure. To reduce the risk of liver cancer, maintain a healthy weight and limit alcohol consumption.

Written by: Deepti Dogra

Edited by: Aniket Joshi

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