Treatment overview

The treatment you have will usually depend on a number of different factors:

  • where the cancer is in the liver – there may be several areas in different parts of the liver
  • the size and number of the tumour or tumours, and whether the cancer has spread outside the liver
  • whether any important blood vessels in the liver are affected
  • how well your liver is working and your general health.

The most effective treatments to try to cure HCC are a liver transplant or removing part of the liver with surgery. But often surgery isn’t possible because the cancer is too advanced.

Treatments that apply heat or alcohol directly to the cancer cells to destroy them may be used in certain people who can’t have surgery. They can work well, particularly with small tumours.

Chemoembolisation is when chemotherapy is given directly into the liver and the blood supply to the tumour is cut off. Doctors may recommend it when the cancer is advanced in the liver but has not spread outside it. It may help to control the cancer and prolong your life. Another treatment, called radioembolisation, is less commonly used. It works in a similar way but uses radiation rather than chemotherapy to destroy cancer cells.

Doctors often advise using a targeted therapy drug called sorafenib when the cancer is very advanced in the liver or has spread outside it. Sometimes chemotherapy may be used. You have these treatments to try to control the cancer, prolong your life and reduce the symptoms. Radiotherapy may occasionally be used to relieve pain if the cancer has spread to another part of the body, such as the bones.

If you decide not to have treatment, there is a still a lot that can be done to control your symptoms and support you. Your doctor can refer you to a team of doctors and nurses who specialise in controlling symptoms (called a palliative care team).

Doctors are looking at newer treatments and different ways of giving existing treatments. Your specialist may talk to you about taking part in a research trial.

Back to Understanding your diagnosis

Cancer registry

Each country in the UK has its own cancer registry: information that helps the NHS and other organisations to plan and improve cancer services.