Radiotherapy for primary liver cancer

Radiotherapy treats cancer by using high-energy rays to destroy cancer cells, while doing as little harm as possible to normal cells. It is not usually used to treat HCC because the liver cannot cope with high doses of radiotherapy. A type of internal radiotherapy called selective internal radiotherapy (SIRT) or radioembolisation is sometimes used. Radiotherapy can be used to treat symptoms if the cancer has spread to another part of the body, such as the bones.

Radiotherapy to treat symptoms

If the cancer has spread to the bones, radiotherapy can be used to help relieve pain. You may only need one or a few short treatments. Radiotherapy can make you feel tired but other side effects are usually mild when it is given to relieve symptoms. Your cancer doctor, nurse or radiographer (person who gives the radiotherapy) will tell you what to expect. You have the treatment as an outpatient in the hospital radiotherapy department. The radiographer will position you on the couch and you’ll be left alone for a few minutes while treatment is given. You can still talk to your radiographer through an intercom.

Stereotactic radiotherapy

This is a newer type of radiotherapy, which gives targeted treatment to the tumour. A specially adapted radiotherapy machine delivers beams of radiotherapy from many different angles. This allows the doctor to give a very high dose to the tumour while keeping the dose to surrounding tissues very low. It’s not clear how helpful this type of radiotherapy is in HCC, but it may occasionally be used. Stereotactic radiotherapy is only available in a few specialist centres.