Surgery for Liver Cancer

At Memorial Sloan Kettering, we can offer you a good chance that you’ll have a better outcome with liver cancer surgery than you would have elsewhere.

Liver surgery can be challenging because many of the important blood vessels leading to and from the heart pass by this organ. Also, the liver can tear easily, and it bleeds a lot if injured. Because our surgeons perform hundreds of liver cancer operations each year, we’re familiar with techniques that can limit blood loss and lessen the need for transfusions during surgery.

Surgery is often the best treatment for primary liver cancer when it’s at an early stage and hasn’t spread to nearby blood vessels. It’s also important that you don’t have underlying medical conditions, such as liver cirrhosis (scarring). Depending on your particular situation, we may recommend chemotherapy before surgery to help shrink your tumor first.

At MSK, interventional radiologists are in the operating room to assist with minimally invasive techniques for primary liver cancer, such as ablation, Nanoknife, or embolization if needed.

Because the liver is one of two organs in the body that can regenerate (regrow), we can remove as much as 80 percent of the organ, and it will rebuild itself within a matter of weeks. At MSK, we use surgical techniques that leave large portions of the healthy part of the liver in place, reducing your risk for complications. In addition, our radiologists can perform a technique that redirects the blood supply to the healthy liver and stimulates cell growth before surgery.

Difficult Cases and Liver Transplantation

Our liver cancer surgeons are known for operating on primary liver cancers that other centers won’t attempt. For example, we’re experienced in managing cholangiocarcinoma, an uncommon cancer that arises from the bile duct cells. We’re also one of the few centers in the United States experienced in treating fibrolamellar-hepatocellular carcinoma.

Liver transplantation is an option for some people with primary liver cancer as well. This can be a smart approach if your tumors are small in size and number and haven’t spread to nearby blood vessels — and if you don’t have cirrhosis or another liver condition. Your team will let you know if this approach might be a good one for you, and they can coordinate with area hospitals to have the procedure done.