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For any type of liver cancer, the only possibility of cure lies with the surgical resection (removal of the tumor) or a liver transplant. These are the only methods with reasonable chance to cure liver cancer. If all cancer in the liver is successfully removed, you will have the best outcome in terms of overall survival.

Partial hepatectomy

Surgery to remove part of the liver is called partial hepatectomy. This operation is considered for a single or sometimes multiple tumors limited to one part of the liver. It is only an option in patients with good liver function who are healthy enough for surgery.If the cancer is in too many different parts of the liver, is too large, or has spread beyond the liver, it becomes not curable.

Imaging tests, such as CT or MRI with angiography are done first to see if the cancer can be removed completely. Still, sometimes during surgery the cancer is found to be too large or spread too far to be removed, and the surgery has to be cancelled.

People with cirrhosis are eligible for surgery only if the cancer is small and they still have a reasonable amount of liver function left. Doctors often assess this function by assigning a Child-Pugh score, which is a measure of cirrhosis based on certain lab tests and symptoms.

Patients in class A are most likely to have enough liver function to have surgery. Patients in class B are less likely to be able to have surgery. Surgery is not typically an option for patients in class C.

Possible risks and side effects: 

Liver resection is a major, serious operation that should only be done by skilled and experienced surgeons. Because people with liver cancer usually have other liver problems besides the cancer, surgeons have to remove enough of the liver to try to get all of the cancer, yet leave enough behind for the liver to function adequately.
A lot of blood passes through the liver, and bleeding after surgery is a major concern. On top of this, the liver normally makes substances that help the blood clot. Damage to the liver (both before the surgery and during the surgery itself) can add to potential bleeding problems.

Other possible problems are similar to those seen with other major surgeries and can include infections, complications from anesthesia, blood clots, and pneumonia.
Another concern is that because the remaining liver still has the underlying disease that led to the cancer, sometimes a new liver cancer can develop afterward.

Liver transplant

When it is available, a liver transplant may be the best option for some people with small liver cancers especially in the background of cirrhosis. In general, it is used to treat patients with small tumors (either 1 tumor smaller than 5 cm across or 2 to 3 tumors no larger than 3 cm) that have not invaded nearby blood vessels. It can also be an option for patients with resectable cancers in the cirrhotic liver.

With a transplant, not only is the risk of a second new liver cancer significantly reduced, but the new liver will function normally. Unfortunately, the opportunities for liver transplants are limited. Only about 6,500 livers are available for transplant each year, and most of these are used for patients with diseases other than liver cancer. Increasing awareness about the importance of organ donation is an essential public health goal that could make this treatment available to more patients with liver cancer and other serious liver diseases.

Most livers used for transplants come from people who have just died. But some patients receive part of a liver from a living donor (usually a close relative) for transplant. The liver can regenerate some of its lost function over time if part of it is removed. Still, the surgery does carry some risks for the donor. Only a small number of them are for patients with liver cancer.

People needing a transplant must wait until a liver is available, which can take too long for some people with liver cancer. In many cases a person may get other treatments, such as embolization or ablation, while waiting for a liver transplant. Or doctors may suggest surgery or other treatments first and then a transplant if the cancer comes back.

Possible risks and side effects: 

Like partial hepatectomy, a liver transplant is a major operation with serious risks (bleeding, infection, blood clots, complications from anesthesia, etc.). But there are some additional risks after this surgery.

People who get a liver transplant are given drugs to help suppress their immune systems to prevent their bodies from rejecting the new organ. These drugs have their own risks and side effects, especially the risk of getting serious infections. By suppressing the immune system, these drugs might also allow any liver cancer that had spread outside of the liver to grow even faster than before. Some of the drugs used to prevent rejection can also cause high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes; can weaken the bones and kidneys; and can even lead to a new cancer.

After a liver transplant, regular blood tests are done to check for signs of the body rejecting the new liver. Sometimes liver biopsies are also taken to see if rejection is occurring and if changes are needed in the anti-rejection medicines.



Liver metastases (also known as secondaries liver) means a condition where cancer cells spread from the primary organ of its origin to liver. Cancers of breast, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, gallbladder, colon and rectum all can spread to liver causing liver metastases. This is by definition a stage IV or last stage cancer and until recently there was no curative treatment option for this condition available.

In last few years due to the better understanding of abdominal cancers and advancements in the field of chemotherapy and surgical techniques, some of these patients can be treated effectively to achieve up to 30% five years’ survival.

A select group of patients with limited liver metastases from cancers of colon, rectum and breast can be treated with the combination of chemotherapy and radical resection surgery of the primary and liver metastases both. Other adjunctive methods include various ablation techniques which also result in increased survival.

This approach can give a five-year survival in up to 30% such patients, who otherwise could not have lived for more than few months.