Treatment for liver cancer

There are many different types of treatment for liver cancer. Your treatment will depend on you and your cancer.

Treatment for liver cancer depends on the type that you have, and your age, medical history and treatment preferences.

Types of treatment

Liver surgery

The aim of surgery is to remove the part of the liver that contains cancer. This is known as a liver resection or partial hepatectomy. Only a small number of people with liver cancer can have this surgery, as it is usually only suitable for a single tumour that has not grown into blood vessels.

Liver transplant

A transplant involves removing the whole liver and replacing it with a healthy liver from another person (a donor). This treatment is effective for HCC, but it is generally used only in people with a single tumour or several small tumours. It is not usually recommended for cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer). 1

Tumour ablation

For tumours smaller than 3 cm, you may be offered tumour ablation. This destroys the tumour without removing it and is recommended if you cannot have surgery or are waiting for a transplant. Ablation can be done in different ways, depending on the size, location and shape of the tumour. 1

Transarterial chemoembolisation (TACE)

Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill or damage cancer cells, but traditional chemotherapy is rarely used for primary liver cancer. Instead, TACE delivers high doses of chemotherapy directly to the tumour. It is usually used for people who can’t have surgery or are waiting for a liver transplant. A CT or MRI scan will be done about six weeks after the TACE procedure to see how well the treatment has worked.  1


Chemotherapy are a group of cytotoxic drugs (drugs toxic to all body cells) that can reduce the risk of recurrence after surgery or extend survival in advanced metastatic cholangiocarcinoma. They are not particularly effective in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC).

Targeted therapy drugs

People who have advanced liver cancer may be offered a targeted therapy drug. These drugs attack specific particles within cancer cells that allow cancer to grow. 1

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is not often used to treat liver cancer. However, two techniques may be offered in specific cases.

  • Selective Internal Radiation Therapy (SIRT), also known as radioembolisation, is a type of internal radiation therapy that precisely targets cancers in the liver. SIRT may be offered for HCC (primary liver cancer) when the tumours can’t be removed with surgery, and is most commonly used for secondary liver cancer.1
  • Stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) is an advanced technique used to treat small, well defined tumours or high-risk postoperative areas. Stereotactic radiation therapy to the liver is most commonly used to treat primary liver tumours. However, it can also be used to treat secondary cancers in the liver where suitable.

Clinical trials

Your doctor may offer you to participate in clinical trial investigating new medications or interventions looking to improve outcomes.

Supportive treatment

Advanced liver cancer may be accompanied by ongoing symptoms that require treatment independently of cancer-targeted treatment. Supportive care aims to manage symptoms without trying to cure the disease and is an area managed by specialists in palliative medicine. It can be used at any stage of advanced cancer to improve quality of life. 1


For a full list of references, click here.
  1. Cancer Council. (2019). Understanding Liver Cancer: A guide for people affected by primary liver cancer or secondary cancer in the liver (2018). Retrieved on 03 October 2019 from

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