New liver cancer treatments offer options for patients

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(April 27, 2016)- The American Cancer Society says the number of liver cancer cases has more than tripled since 1980.

It’s seen more in men than women.  And the average age of diagnosis is 63.  The good news is that there are a number of procedures used to rid patients of the disease, many of them more successful if the cancer is caught early.

When liver cancer is caught early and the patient’s liver is working well, treatment is generally aimed at trying to eliminate the cancer. When liver cancer is found at a later stage, the patient and doctor should talk about the goals of each treatment.  Generally the goals focus on slowing the growth of the cancer and relieving symptoms to improve quality of life.

If a liver tumor is smaller than 5 cm, surgery may be recommended.  Hepatectomy is when a portion of the liver is removed. It can be done when cancer is in one part of the liver and the liver is working well. The remaining section of the liver takes over the functions and may actually regrow to its normal size.  But hepatectomy may not be possible if the patient has advanced cirrhosis.

Sometimes a liver transplantation can be done.  This procedure is possible only when the cancer has not spread outside the liver, a suitable donor is found and very specific criteria are met in terms of tumor size and number. After a transplant the patient will be watched for signs of rejection.  In many cases, the patient will be placed on anti-rejection drugs.

Radiofrequency ablation and microwave therapy both use heat to destroy cancer cells. Percutaneous ethanol injection uses alcohol injected directly into the liver tumor to destroy it. Side effects may include fever and pain after the procedure. Chemoembolization is a type of chemotherapy that is similar to hepatic arterial infusion. During this procedure, drugs are injected into the hepatic artery and the flow of blood through the artery is blocked for a short time, so the chemotherapy stays in the tumor longer.  Blocking blood supply to the tumor also destroys cancer cells.

Doctors in New York are using a promising new treatment for liver cancer. Tiny beads coated in a chemotherapy drug deliver the treatment directly to the tumor. Doctor’s thread a tiny catheter though the wrist and can see the tiny beads on x-ray. The beads also block blood flow to the tumor.

To find out more about liver cancer and treatments click on the links below:

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