Treatment for Liver Cancer

The outlook for people with primary liver cancer has never been better. Today, many people survive the disease.

Memorial Sloan Kettering specialists have cared for more than 5,000 patients with various types of primary liver tumors over the past decade, from benign (noncancerous) tumors to rare types, such as angiosarcoma and hepatoblastoma.

Our surgeons perform hundreds of liver cancer procedures each year. They are often able to offer treatment to people whose tumors aren’t considered operable at other hospitals.

Because surgery for liver cancer can be challenging — many important blood vessels are near the liver — we may recommend chemotherapy, targeted therapy, or other approaches in addition to considering surgery. Sometimes we use radiation therapy to treat the disease, but this isn’t as common.

When surgery isn’t the best option, we may call on our interventional radiologists to perform minimally invasive techniques using CT, ultrasound, or MRI to guide the treatments directly to your liver and destroy the tumor. Our doctors are skilled in ablation, NanoKnife techniques, and embolization to get rid of liver tumors.

Treatment for Advanced Disease

Many people don’t have surgery for primary liver tumors because the cancer is too advanced at the time we find it, or they have an underlying liver disease, such as cirrhosis (scarring of the liver). Sometimes liver tumors are so small that it doesn’t make sense to have surgery, since other therapies are likely to be just as effective.

We’re constantly evaluating new targeted medications, either alone or combined with other drugs, to improve how we care for our patients. For many people, targeted agents don’t cause the side effects that are common for chemotherapy, such as fatigue, nausea, and diarrhea.

Often we’re able to offer patients participation in an investigational therapy for primary liver cancer through a clinical trial.

For people with fibrolamellar-hepatocellular carcinoma, our doctors may prescribe sorafenib (a commonly used targeted drug), or we may recommend a clinical trial exploring new treatment options. In some cases, clinical trials are available even if you have advanced cirrhosis or liver failure.

Can Liver Tumors Be Benign?

Benign (noncancerous) tumors can form in the liver. Usually they don’t cause symptoms and are only found by chance when a person undergoes imaging tests for another health condition.

We may recommend that benign liver tumors be treated if they cause bleeding, abdominal pain, or other major symptoms.

Our researchers are evaluating a variety of drugs, including new and experimental drugs, for their potential effectiveness in treating tumors with these and other mutations.