Treatment Staging

For liver cancer, doctors generally use a different staging system to decide on an appropriate treatment plan. The treatment that is best for you will depend on whether the cancer is localized and resectable, localized and unresectable, or advanced.

Words to Know

Resectable means removable by surgery.

Learn about:

Localized resectable liver cancer

Living with Cancer

Learn about managing pain, creating a support team, and other strategies for living with cancer in Your Guide to Cancer Care.

Localized resectable liver cancer is cancer that can be removed through surgery. There is no evidence that the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes or to other parts of your body. In addition, lab tests show that your liver is working well.

Your doctor may recommend a partial hepatectomy or a total hepatectomy, depending on the size, number, and location of the tumors, as well as how well your liver is working and your general health.

Localized unresectable liver cancer

Localized unresectable liver cancer means the cancer hasn’t spread to any nearby lymph nodes or distant parts of your body, but surgery is not an option. Typically, surgery is not possible because of the tumor’s location in the liver, or because of other existing health conditions or liver diseases such as cirrhosis. If you are ineligible for surgery, you may receive other treatments to control the disease and extend your life.

People who have tumors smaller than five centimeters in diameter may be eligible to receive treatments including chemoembolization, cryosurgery, percutaneous ethanol injection, and radiofrequency ablation.

Some people, particularly those who have fibrolamellar hepatoma, may be eligible for a liver transplantation.

Regional chemotherapy has been shown to have some success in fighting liver cancer at this stage, but systemic chemotherapy has not.

Advanced liver cancer

Advanced liver cancer is cancer that is found in both lobes of the liver or that has spread to other parts of the body — most commonly the lungs and the bones. At this time, there isn’t a cure for advanced liver cancer.

There are no standard treatments for advanced liver cancer, but some people with the disease receive chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or both to try to slow the disease’s progress. Others discuss the possible benefits and side effects of each option and decide not to receive treatment. However, everyone with advanced liver cancer always receives palliative care, which is used to reduce pain and control symptoms.

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