Chemotherapy for liver cancer

Chemotherapy is not used very often for liver cancer. But it may be used to try to control the tumour and reduce symptoms.

About chemotherapy for liver cancer

Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells.

Chemotherapy for liver cancer (also known as hepatocellar carcinoma or HCC) is usually given directly into the blood vessel that carries blood to the liver (the hepatic artery). It is often used together with a treatment that blocks the blood supply to the tumour. This is called chemoembolisation.

This information on this page is about chemotherapy given into a vein (intravenously) or taken by mouth as tablets. This is not a common way of treating HCC. It can be used to try to control the tumour and reduce symptoms. It is not suitable for everyone because the liver may not be working well enough to cope with chemotherapy drugs.

How chemotherapy is given

Chemotherapy is usually given into a vein (intravenously) or taken by mouth as tablets. Chemotherapy drugs that may be used include:

Your doctor or nurse will tell you how you will have chemotherapy.

You usually have chemotherapy on one or more days, followed by a rest period of a few weeks. This is called a cycle of treatment. The rest period lets your body recover from the side effects before you start your next treatment cycle.

Your doctor or nurse will tell you how many cycles of treatment you will have.

Side effects of chemotherapy

Chemotherapy drugs may cause unpleasant side effects. These can usually be well controlled with medicines and will usually go away once treatment has finished. Not all drugs cause the same side effects and some people may have very few. You can talk to your doctor or nurse about what to expect from your treatment.

We have more information about the side effects of chemotherapy

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our primary liver cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at cancerinformationteam@macmillan.org.uk

    Melloul E, Hübner M, Scott M, et al. Guidelines for perioperative care for liver surgery: Enhanced Recovery After Surgery (ERAS) Society recommendations. World J Surg. 2016; 40: 2425–2440. Available from: doi.org/10.1007/s00268-016-3700-1 [accessed Feb 2020] 

    NICE. Lenvatinib for untreated advanced hepatocellular carcinoma: Technology appraisal guidance (TA 551) [Internet]. 2018. Available from: www.nice.org.uk/guidance/TA551 [accessed Feb 2020] 

    NICE. Liver disease. Quality standard (QS 152) [Internet]. 2017. Available from: www.nice.org.uk/guidance/QS152 [accessed Feb 2020] 

    NICE. Liver cancers overview [Internet]. 2019. Available from: pathways.nice.org.uk/pathways/liver-cancers/liver-cancers-overview [accessed Feb 2020]

    NICE. Regorafenib for previously treated advanced hepatocellular carcinoma. Technology appraisal guidance (TA555) [Internet]. 2019. Available from: www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ta555 [accessed Feb 2020]

    Vogel A, Cervantes A, Chau I, et al. Hepatocellular carcinoma: ESMO Clinical practice guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. Annals of Oncology. 2018; 29 (S4): iv238–iv255. Available from doi.org/10.1093/annonc/mdy510 [accessed Feb 2020]    


  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Dr Paul Ross, Consultant Medical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.