Medicine
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How Effective is Chemotherapy for Liver Cancer?

Erin J. Hill
Erin J. Hill

The effectiveness of chemotherapy for liver cancer depends on the type of cancer and how far progressed the cancer has become. Chemotherapy is not generally very effective at treating cancer which starts in the liver, or primary liver cancer. It may be an effective treatment for secondary varieties, or cancer that starts is another area of the body and spreads to the liver. Most often, chemotherapy will be used in combination with more effective treatments, especially in those with cancer elsewhere in the body.

Primary liver cancer is generally treated with surgery to remove the tumor and sometimes with radiation therapies. The use of chemotherapy for liver cancer is not uncommon, but it is not always effective in treating cancers that are in earlier stages and which begin in the liver. When it is used, cancer is often in more progressed stages. Medication can be delivered intravenously, or be injected directly into the cancerous area.

Chemotherapy may not be very effective for treating cancer that starts in the liver.
Chemotherapy may not be very effective for treating cancer that starts in the liver.

For patients whose cancer has spread into the liver from another area of the body, chemotherapy may be a good treatment option. It is still often combined with surgery and radiation treatments, and a different combination of drugs may be used than with primary liver cancer. The effectiveness of chemotherapy for liver cancer that began elsewhere in the body depends on many factors, including the patient's overall health, age, and how far the cancer has spread.

Chemotherapy isn't very effective for treating primary liver cancer, but may be used in combination with other therapies.
Chemotherapy isn't very effective for treating primary liver cancer, but may be used in combination with other therapies.

Progressed cancers are usually much harder to treat than those which are contained in one area. Of those who are diagnosed with liver cancer, 20% live for at least one year after diagnosis. Only five percent live for five years or more. In general, a six month survival time is typical for those diagnosed with liver cancer. This number may be better or worse depending on how far progressed the cancer is at the time it is diagnosed. For some individuals, chemotherapy for liver cancer is not the most effective treatment, and it increases survival times minimally.

Side effects usually experienced by chemotherapy patients include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, mouth sores, bleeding tendencies, hair loss and changes in menstrual cycles for women.
Side effects usually experienced by chemotherapy patients include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, mouth sores, bleeding tendencies, hair loss and changes in menstrual cycles for women.

Those with the most positive prognosis are those who catch their cancers early and receive treatment immediately. The most effective methods for early stage primary liver cancer is a partial liver removal, which gets rid of the diseased section, radiation, and a full liver transplant. Chemotherapy may be used for early stage if other treatments fail to work effectively enough and the drugs used are typically those which can be injected directly into the liver.

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Discussion Comments

Misscoco

@Bertie68 - Yes, I think that surgery is the best option for liver cancer, if the cancer is localized. Like your dad, my mom had surgery to remove cancer from her liver. She lived 10 years after the surgery. A doctor could also use chemotherapy in addition to surgery to treat the cancer.

Chemotherapy doesn't seem to work as well for cancers that start in the liver. I think that whenever possible, surgery is the most successful treatment for liver cancer.

Bertie68

A number of years ago, my dad had colon cancer that spread to his liver. The cancer covered a fairly large part of his liver. He was immediately scheduled for surgery. It was a long surgery. But the surgeons said that they got all the cancerous tissue.

Well, I didn't know this before, but I was told that the liver has an uncanny ability to grow back - and in a few years it did!

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    • Chemotherapy may not be very effective for treating cancer that starts in the liver.
      By: AlienCat
      Chemotherapy may not be very effective for treating cancer that starts in the liver.
    • Chemotherapy isn't very effective for treating primary liver cancer, but may be used in combination with other therapies.
      By: Monkey Business
      Chemotherapy isn't very effective for treating primary liver cancer, but may be used in combination with other therapies.
    • Side effects usually experienced by chemotherapy patients include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, mouth sores, bleeding tendencies, hair loss and changes in menstrual cycles for women.
      By: prudkov
      Side effects usually experienced by chemotherapy patients include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, mouth sores, bleeding tendencies, hair loss and changes in menstrual cycles for women.
    • Because the liver filters toxins and waste from the blood, if the organ fails to work properly a person can become seriously ill.
      By: pixdesign123
      Because the liver filters toxins and waste from the blood, if the organ fails to work properly a person can become seriously ill.
    • Patients whose cancer has spread into the liver from other areas of the body may benefit from chemotherapy.
      By: edbockstock
      Patients whose cancer has spread into the liver from other areas of the body may benefit from chemotherapy.
    • The patient's age and overall health greatly affects her or his liver cancer prognosis.
      By: Lisa F. Young
      The patient's age and overall health greatly affects her or his liver cancer prognosis.
    • An oncologist may prescribe chemotherapy for patients with advanced liver cancer.
      By: JPC-PROD
      An oncologist may prescribe chemotherapy for patients with advanced liver cancer.