Types of Treatments for Liver Cancer (Hepatocellular Carcinoma)

Types of Treatments for Liver Cancer

There have been significant advancements in the treatments for liver cancer, especially hepatocellular carcinoma, a form of primary liver cancer. As one delves into the realm of liver cancer treatment, it becomes evident that with basic information on the treatments available, people are better equipped to secure best possible care for patients. This blog aims to shed light on the various hepatocellular carcinoma or liver cancer treatments available.

What is Liver Cancer?

Liver cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the liver cells. The most common type is hepatocellular carcinoma, which originates in the main liver cell, the hepatocyte. Other less common types include intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma and hepatoblastoma. Some common causes of liver cancer include chronic hepatitis infections, excessive alcohol consumption, and certain inherited liver diseases. Liver cancer symptoms often include abdominal pain, unexplained weight loss, and yellowing of the skin. A good understanding of the causes and symptoms of liver cancer can help patients seek timely intervention. Although difficult to treat, there are different treatments available for liver cancer.

Treatment Modalities for Liver Cancer 

The treatment landscape for liver cancer is vast and continually evolving. The best approach often hinges on the cancer’s stage, the liver’s overall health, the patient’s age, expected lifespan, underlying health conditions, and general well-being. The oncologists also inquire about the symptoms of liver cancer in the patients before advising any treatments.

Hepatectomy

  • Overview: Liver cancer hepatectomy is a surgical procedure that involves removing the portion of the liver afflicted with cancer. The liver’s remarkable regenerative capacity allows the remaining tissue to assume the organ’s functions and, in many instances, regenerate the excised tissue.
  • Who can participate? This treatment is most effective for patients with small tumours and those without significant liver damage or advanced cirrhosis. The surgery’s success hinges on the tumour’s location and the patient’s overall health.
  • Recovery: Post-surgery, patients typically spend several days in the hospital. Recovery can span several weeks, with regular follow-ups to monitor liver function and detect potential recurrence.

Liver Transplant 

  • Overview: Another form of surgery, a liver transplantation involves replacing the patient’s diseased liver with a healthy liver from a donor. This procedure can be curative for liver cancer, but carries risks such as infection-related fatalities, liver rejection, and the development of other cancers.
  • Eligibility: It’s primarily an option for patients with early-stage liver cancer who might face complications from other treatments due to underlying liver diseases. The eligibility criteria is very comprehensive and includes things such as tumours should be less than 5 cm or 3 or fewer tumours that are less than 3 cm in size. 
  • Donor Selection: The scarcity of donors necessitates a rigorous selection process. Living-donor liver transplants, where a portion of a living person’s liver is transplanted, are also gaining traction.

Radiation Therapy

  • Overview: This therapy employs high-energy x-rays to obliterate cancer cells and shrink the size of the tumours. Techniques include external beam radiation and internal radiation (brachytherapy). It works for patients for whom other treatments haven’t helped or aren’t possible.
  • Procedure: Patients lie on a table for external radiation while a machine directs radiation at the cancer site. Internal radiation involves placing radioactive beads near the tumour.
  • Side Effects: Common side effects encompass fatigue, mild skin reactions, loss of appetite, and damage to the stomach and lungs. However, advancements in technology have reduced these side effects considerably.

In place of radiation therapy, radiofrequency or thermal ablation is preferred. Radiofrequency ablation uses heat from microwave energy and RAF to destroy cancer cells, while cryoablation employs cold. This may be conducted through laparoscopy or surgery.

Chemoembolization

  • Overview: It is a type of chemotherapy that uses drugs to destroy the cancer cells in the liver. It is a primary treatment for hepatocellular carcinoma and a good treatment to slow the tumour’s growth and ease the liver cancer symptoms for patient’s waiting for a transplant.
    • Embolisation: This procedure obstructs the blood supply to the tumour, causing it to starve and shrink. Types include arterial and chemoembolisation, where chemotherapy drugs are directly delivered to the liver.
  • How it works: Oncologists inject drugs into the hepatic artery to block the flow of blood to the tumour. The drug also delivers cancer-killing medicines to get into action.

Targeted Therapy

  • Overview: Unlike standard chemotherapy, targeted drugs specifically assault certain components of advanced-stage cancer cells, inhibiting their growth and spread. It may be given in the bloodstream or locally. It is recommended when surgery isn’t an option and the cancer has spread.
  • Drugs: Drugs such as bevacizumab, atezolizumab, sorafenib, and lenvatinib hinder the action of specific proteins, genes, and tissues that promote tumour growth. It’s used for advanced hepatocellular carcinoma.
  • Side Effects: While generally milder than chemotherapy, side effects can include fatigue, hypertension, and skin rashes.

Immunotherapy 

  • Overview: Immunotherapy amplifies the body’s natural defences against cancer. It’s a burgeoning field with promising results for advanced liver cancer.
  • Drugs: Medications like nivolumab and pembrolizumab have shown efficacy in treating liver cancer by targeting PD-1, a protein in immune system cells.
  • Benefits: Immunotherapy can potentially offer longer-lasting protection against cancer recurrence by ‘training’ the immune system.

Life after Liver Cancer Treatment

Navigating life post-liver cancer treatment is a journey of mixed emotions. The aftermath is not just about physical recovery but also about mental and emotional well-being.

Physical Recovery:

Some treatments might have lingering side effects, such as fatigue or digestive issues. It’s essential to communicate any concerns about lingering physical symptoms of liver cancer with the healthcare team as and when they occur.

Emotional Well-being:

Joining support groups, seeking therapy, or practising mindfulness can be beneficial for managing post-treatment anxieties and unstable and depressive thoughts.

Lifestyle Changes:

  • Diet and Nutrition: A balanced diet is crucial for recovery.
  • Physical Activity: Gradually incorporating physical activity can boost energy levels and improve mood.
  • Limiting Alcohol: It’s advisable to limit or abstain from alcohol post-treatment.

Reintegration into Daily Life:

  • Returning to Work: Open communication with employers about any needed accommodations can ease the transition back to work.
  • Social Interactions: Engaging in social activities can provide a sense of normalcy.

Continued Monitoring:

  • Regular Screenings: Regular screenings are essential to detect any signs of cancer returning or new cancers developing.

Seeking Support:

  • Support Groups: Connecting with fellow survivors can provide a sense of community.
  • Family and Friends: Leaning on loved ones can smooth the post-treatment journey.

Choosing the Best Cancer Hospital in India for Liver Cancer Treatment 

India has emerged as a prominent destination for medical tourism, especially in cancer treatments, including those of the liver. The country boasts a plethora of hospitals equipped with state-of-the-art facilities and renowned oncologists. However, selecting the right hospital for liver cancer treatment can be daunting. Here’s a comprehensive guide to assist patients and their families in making an informed decision:

  • Reputation and Accreditation: Opt for hospitals with a strong reputation and accreditations from bodies like NABH or JCI, ensuring adherence to global care standards.
  • Medical Staff Expertise: Seek institutions with renowned oncologists and a multidisciplinary team approach, ensuring comprehensive care.
  • Advanced Technologies: Prioritise hospitals with the latest diagnostic and therapeutic tools and those offering innovative treatments like targeted therapy.
  • Patient Care Services: Beyond medical treatment, consider hospitals offering holistic care, including psychological counselling and rehabilitation. Services like visa assistance and language interpreters can be pivotal for international patients.
  • Success Rates: Research the hospital’s success rates in liver cancer treatments and their involvement in clinical trials, offering access to cutting-edge therapies.
  • Affordability: Choose hospitals with transparent pricing and insurance tie-ups, ensuring financial clarity and ease of payment.
  • Patient Feedback: Reviews and testimonials provide genuine insights into patient satisfaction and care quality.
  • Location: Consider the hospital’s accessibility, especially for anticipated frequent visits.

End of the line

Liver cancer poses significant challenges that require top-tier medical interventions and a supportive environment. India stands as a beacon of hope in this field, offering state-of-the-art facilities and unparalleled expertise. As individuals navigate their way through diagnosis, treatment, and recovery, making informed decisions becomes crucial. With prudent choices and unwavering determination, the path to healing and a rejuvenated life after treatment becomes attainable. In this battle, armed with knowledge and the right support, every step forward represents a triumph over adversity.

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