A patient lays in bed with an IV in their hand.
A patient lays in bed with an IV in their hand.
A patient lays in bed with an IV in their hand.

4 Liver Cancer Treatment Advances

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In recent years, there have been several advances in treating liver cancer. While removing liver cancer through surgery can be an effective form of liver cancer treatment for some patients, it’s not suitable for all patients. As researchers continue to uncover new and innovative treatments, doctors have more options to consider for their patients.

Johns Hopkins liver surgeon Matthew J. Weiss , M.D., summarizes four evolving treatment methods that may effectively treat liver cancers today.

Chemotherapy Advances

Liver advances

In the past decade, chemotherapy has seen revolutionary research advances. With newer medications, patients are living longer after receiving just chemotherapy. For some patients, chemotherapy is given along with another therapy. For example, it can shrink a tumor enough to allow doctors to perform surgery safely. According to Weiss, “Better and even more targeted chemotherapies are on the horizon.”

Intra-arterial Therapies for Liver Cancer

Often, liver tumors get their blood supply from the artery that supplies the liver. These tumors act as parasites to your body’s blood supply. In intra-arterial therapies, chemoembolization beads deliver cancer-killing medication to the tumor through the artery. These beads also block blood flow to the tumor, which helps prevent it from growing. These procedures are performed by interventional radiologists at Johns Hopkins.

Liver Tumor Ablation Techniques

Ablation therapies kill a liver tumor instead of removing it. In these techniques, doctors use a probe to kill tumors with hot or cold energy. This minimally invasive approach is most effective for smaller tumors less than 2 cm but may be used for even larger tumors.

“At Johns Hopkins, we perform microwave ablation on tumors that are not removable via other surgical interventions,” Weiss explains. This technique can be performed in the operating room in a surgical procedure or with a less invasive approach, such as a same-day procedure.

Liver Transplant Advances

Liver transplantation can be an effective treatment for certain patients with hepatocellular carcinoma, a common type of liver cancer. If a patient has liver disease, such as cirrhosis, liver transplantation can also reduce further the risk of cancer. However, not all patients will be candidates for a transplant; this needs to be determined by a transplant surgeon and his or her team. The divisions of hepatopancreatobiliary and transplant surgery work closely together at Johns Hopkins to ensure the optimal treatment strategy for patients are determined.

Before recommending a liver transplant, doctors consider:

  • The number of tumors
  • Tumor size
  • A patient’s health
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Promise and Progress in Cancer Research

Did you know that one of every three women is expected to develop cancer? Oncologist William Nelson, M.D., Ph.D., discusses how treatments like precision medicine and immunotherapy are improving cancer survival during a panel discussion at A Woman’s Journey — Baltimore, a daylong women’s health event in November.


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