Surgery remains the most effective way to cure liver cancer—either by taking out part of the liver (partial hepatectomy) or removing the whole organ during a transplant operation.
Some tumors are not removable with surgery, and some people are too frail to undergo operations. We also offer the latest tumor ablation therapies for a minimally invasive approach. Learn more about tumor ablation therapies.
For more advanced disease, we can block tumor blood supply (embolization), target tumor blood vessel growth and protein use (targeted therapy), or deliver precision radiation therapy. We continue to research new options.
A liver transplant replaces a diseased liver with a healthy liver from either a deceased or living donor.
Your doctor may recommend a transplant when:
Removing just the tumor(s) is not possible because of its location or the liver being too diseased
The tumor(s) is still small and has not invaded nearby blood vessels
Waiting for a deceased donor is challenging because of the limited number of livers available and the need to match blood type and approximate body size.
With living donation, just a section of the donated liver is removed. The donor’s organ continues to function, and the transplanted section can regenerate within weeks. Still, the operation carries risks for the donor.
Liver transplantation may give you better quality of life and help you live longer. However, it is important that you are aware of the complications related to major surgery and organ rejection, as well as possible side effects from the medications you will need to take after a liver transplant surgery.
Removing just the part of the liver where the tumor is located is called partial hepatectomy.
When we can, we recommend this surgery. But it is only appropriate for a single tumor that has not grown into blood vessels. Patients also need good liver function and good overall health. Unfortunately, many patients are not good candidates.
Ablation is a minimally invasive procedure that destroys liver tumors, but does not remove them. Ablation is less likely than surgery to cure cancer, but it is a good option when an operation is not possible. Generally, it is limited to just a few small tumors.
We offer several types of tumor ablation therapies, using a special needle or probe:
Cryotherapy: Freezes the tumor
Ethanol ablation: Uses concentrated alcohol
Microwave thermotherapy: Microwave energy heats and destroys the tumor
Radiofrequency ablation: Uses high-energy radio waves
Liver embolization relies on the fact that the organ receives blood supply from two different veins (the hepatic and portal). That means doctors can safely close off whichever branch of the hepatic vein is feeding the tumor, blocking or reducing the blood flow it needs to survive.
Embolization provides an option when surgery or ablation is not possible. We sometimes combine it with ablation.
We offer three types of liver embolization:
Arterial embolization: Small particles are injected to plug the branch (also called trans-arterial embolization, or TAE)
Chemoembolization: Chemotherapy drugs create the block, while chemotherapy is also delivered locally to the tumor (also called trans-arterial chemoembolization, or TACE)
Radioembolization: Small beads with radioactive isotopes close the branch (also called trans-arterial radioembolization, or TARE)
Radiation can provide a treatment option for more advanced liver cancer, and we continue to explore new ways to make its delivery more precise and effective.
Learn more about radiation therapy at Stanford and about our innovative techniques and delivery systems:
CyberKnife: We invented, and continue to improve, this radiosurgery technology, which offers laser-like accuracy.
Clinical trials are research studies that evaluate a new medical approach, device, drug, or other treatment. As a Stanford Health Care patient, you may have access to the latest, advanced clinical trials.
Open trials refer to studies currently accepting participants. Closed trials are not currently enrolling, but may open in the future.