Treatment, Prognosis of Liver Cancer Depends on Stage, Tumor Size

Your liver is the largest organ in your body. It helps you digest food, store energy and removes poisons.

Liver cancer is a tumor that starts growing inside your liver itself, says James Ouellette, DO, of Premier Surgical Oncology, part of Premier Physician Network.

Much of what leads to liver cancer are poor lifestyle choices over a lifetime. Obesity, eating too many processed foods and drinking too much alcohol can all lead to cirrhosis of your liver. In addition exposure to Hepatitis B & C are significant risk factors for cirrhosis and cancer development.

Cirrhosis is chronic damage to your liver that can’t be undone. Having diseases like cirrhosis and hepatitis make your liver more susceptible to liver cancer.

What to Watch For

Symptoms of liver cancer are difficult to identify until they become advanced. They may be less from the disease itself and more from cirrhosis or chronic liver damage. They include abdominal pain, jaundice (yellowing) skin and nausea. 

If you’ve been diagnosed with cirrhosis, it’s important to follow up with blood work, an ultrasound of the liver and possibly more advanced imaging, like a CAT scan or an MRI, says Dr. Ouellette.

The outcome after being diagnosed with liver cancer depends mainly on the stage of the cancer when it’s found and how large the tumor is. Whether it is limited to your liver or has spread to other areas of your body will also affect the outcome.

Treatment Options

Dr. Ouellette says there are two potentially curative methods to treat liver cancer: resection of the tumor involved liver and liver transplantation.

Oftentimes with liver cancer, your liver is already so damaged by a pre-existing disease (cirrhosis) that if the part of the liver with the tumor is removed, the rest of the liver isn’t healthy enough to survive or regenerate/repair itself.

In this case, a liver transplant would be your best treatment option. 

Most liver transplants are from people who have died and donated their organs to someone else to use. However, that means there are a limited number of livers available for transplant.

Liver transplants can also be done using a living donor, where someone donates part of their liver to you. These are not as common, but sometimes an option.

Another treatment option for liver cancer is to use ablation therapy. At Premier Health, we use microwave ablation, radiofrequency ablation or NanoKnife® ablation. These are used to kill the tumor cells without removal of your liver. Size and location of the tumor are important considerations for these therapies. 

Other potential treatments available include radioembolization or chemoembolization and can be delivered directly into the liver. Some patients also benefit from new chemotherapy and immunotherapy drugs. 

Source: James Ouellette, DO, Premier Surgical Oncology; Understanding liver transplants, Krames, 7/1/2016; Understanding radiofrequency ablation of liver tumors, Krames, 6/1/2016; Liver Cancer: Symptoms, Krames, 5/1/2016; Understanding cirrhosis, Krames, 6/1/2016; Hepatitis, Krames (no date); Signs of jaundice, Krames, 11/1/2016; Liver cancer: introduction, Krames, 5/1/2016