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Types and Goals of Treatment for Liver Cancer

Each type of treatment for liver cancer has a different goal. Here is a list of main treatments and their goals for liver cancer. They are listed in order from the most to least common. You may have more than one of these treatments:

  • Surgery. The goal of surgery is to remove the whole tumor from the liver yet leave as much of the healthy liver as possible intact.

  • Chemotherapy. The goal of chemotherapy is to shrink the liver cancer and reduce the chance that the cancer will spread to other parts of the body. You may have it after surgery to reduce this chance. After surgery, it is called adjuvant chemotherapy. It may also be used alone to treat the cancer, especially if it has spread to other areas.

  • Radiation therapy. The goal of radiation is to kill cancer cells using X-rays. This treatment may be used to shrink a tumor before surgery. Or you may have it after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells. If you cannot have surgery, you may have radiation alone to treat pain and other symptoms of the cancer.

  • Targeted therapy. Sorafenib (nexavar) is the first targeted therapy approved for liver cancer after clinical trials demonstrated greater benefit and less toxicity than chemotherapy trials. It is one of a new class of drugs called tyrosine kinase inhibitors and is taken by mouth.  

There are also other types of treatments for liver cancer, including cryotherapy, ethanol ablation, radiofrequency ablation, intra-arterial chemoembolization, and liver transplantation. Doctors are always finding new ways to treat liver cancer. These new methods are tested in clinical trials. Before beginning treatment, ask your doctor about any clinical trials you should consider.


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