Liver cancer is one of the ten most common cancer diseases and it is the fifth leading cause of cancer death among men and ninth among women. For 2015, estimates show that 36,660 adults in the United States will be diagnosed with primary liver cancer and 24,550 will pass away because of the said disease.
When liver cancer affects you or a loved one, the first step you need to take is to seek for treatment. Here are some of the treatments and procedures that are commonly recommended to battle the disease:
Surgery for liver cancer may be done in order to remove a portion of the liver or perform a liver transplant.
Removing a portion of the liver is called partial hepatectomy. In this procedure, liver tissues are removed depending on the size and location of the cancer. Liver tissues can regenerate overtime, but this procedure is not recommended for a patient who has an unhealthy liver. Side effects may include complications from anesthesia, pneumonia, blood clots, and infection. More so, if the cancer is not completely removed, it may recur in the future.
Liver transplant is a surgical procedure that is done to replace a patient’s current liver with a new one. For this procedure, an organ donor will be needed. It may be recommended for patients who have:
- A single tumor that is 5cm. across or less
- 5 or less tumors that are all 3cm across or less
- A single tumor of 5-7cm. in size that has not grown in at least 6 months
This treatment is advisable for individuals who have tumors that are not safe to remove via partial hepatectomy because of its location or due to their overall health.
Liver transplant may have the same side effects as partial hepatectomy. It may also cause further complications because some drugs may be prescribed to prevent the immune system from rejecting the new organ. These drugs may allow cancer outside the liver to spread and may cause high blood, high cholesterol, or even a new cancer.
Tumor ablation is an outpatient procedure that destroys the tumors without surgically removing them. It is recommended to attack small tumors when surgery is not advised due to poor health. Tumors that are not larger than 3cm. can be treated with ablation.
Tumor ablation can be sometimes performed when a patient is waiting for a liver donor.
Side effects of ablation include abdominal pain, infection, and bleeding.
Embolization is the process that inhibits blood flow to the cancer cells in the liver by blocking the hepatic artery, which is one of the two arteries that supply blood in the said organ.
It is an outpatient procedure that is usually recommended for patients who can’t undergo surgery or have tumors that are too big to be treated by ablation. However, it is not recommended for those with hepatitis or cirrhosis.
Radiation therapy, as its name suggests, is the use of radiation from outside the body in order to shrink liver tumors or relieve symptoms. The radiation team will take careful measurements in order to target the cancer accurately. In some cases, radiation will be injected through the hepatic artery.
Radiation therapy is rarely recommended and it cannot be administered in high doses because it can cause damage to normal liver tissues.
Side effects of radiation therapy include skin changes, nausea fatigue, low blood counts, and vomiting.
Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to battle liver cancer. It is administered locally or intravenously. Because this type of treatment travels through the bloodstream and reaches all parts of the body, it may be recommended for patients whose cancer has spread through other organs.
Side effects of chemotherapy include hair loss, appetite loss, mouth sores, diarrhea, bruising, bleeding, fatigue, and infection.
Targeted therapy is technically a type of chemotherapy, but it works differently. Chemotherapy targets cells that quickly divide because that’s a characteristic of most cancer cells. However, not all cells that have that movement are cancerous. Meanwhile, targeted therapy focuses on the certain parts or characteristics of cancer cells.
These treatments are usually recommended for cancer that originated from the liver, which is primary liver cancer. Treatment for secondary liver cancer—cancer that spread to the liver from other parts of the body—will depend on the type of cancer that it originated from.
Factors to Consider
In creating a treatment plan for a liver cancer case, certain factors should be considered. These include the stage of the cancer, health of the liver, overall health of the patient, and chances of curing the disease.
When discussing treatments with your doctor, always know the goal of the treatment. If possible, seek a second opinion. This will help ensure the accuracy of the diagnosis and the treatment plan recommended for your condition.
Aside from the treatments discussed, you can also ask your doctor about alternative treatments that will help manage pain, stress and side effects.
Battling cancer is challenging, but it becomes more bearable when you make informed choices. If you or a loved one is diagnosed with liver cancer, learn as much as you can about it and its treatment options so that you can make the best choice and maintain a good quality of life despite the disease.