The liver, located under the rib cage on the right side of your body, is an extremely important organ – it processes what you eat and drink into energy and nutrients your body can use and also removes harmful substances from your blood.
Liver cancer is the growth and spread of unhealthy cells in the liver. Liver cancer is a type of gastrointestinal cancer that typically starts as a solid tumor within the liver but can grow larger and move to other sites within the liver, lungs, or lymph nodes. Liver cancer often goes undetected until the disease is advanced.
Primary Liver Cancer
Cancer that starts in the liver is called primary liver cancer.
The most common type of primary liver cancer is hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). HCC originates from liver cells, called hepatocytes, and typically occurs in patients with underlying liver cirrhosis. UT Southwestern Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center has the largest HCC program in Texas and one of the largest in the country.
Cholangiocarcinoma is primary liver cancer in the bile ducts within the liver. Similar to HCC, symptoms are often absent at an early stage.
Fibrolamellar carcinoma is typically a slow-growing cancer and most often involves patients of a younger age.
Liver metastases are tumors that have spread to the liver from other areas of the body. This is also called secondary liver cancer or metastatic liver cancer. The liver is a common place for other primary cancers to spread because of its rich blood supply and the presence of other body fluids that promote cell growth.
Liver metastases most commonly originate in the intestine, pancreas, stomach, or breasts. Even if the primary cancer is removed (or thought to be cured), liver metastases can still occur years later.
UT Southwestern’s liver cancer team meets weekly to review patient cases and discuss treatment, bringing a variety of clinical perspectives and experience to help develop a plan based on each patient’s specific needs.
Primary liver cancer and metastatic liver cancer are treated differently.
For primary liver cancer, treatment may include:
- Surgery – if the tumor is limited within the liver and the remainder of the liver is healthy enough to tolerate an operation
- Locoregional therapies, such as the delivery of chemotherapy directly to the liver through arteries
- Stereotactic radiation therapy
- Liver transplantation
Treatment of liver metastasis depends on where the primary cancer originated, the extent of the cancer’s spread to the liver, whether the cancer has spread to other organs besides the liver, and your overall condition. A combination of therapies is possible, including surgery, chemotherapy, transarterial chemoembolization, radiofrequency ablation, and stereotactic radiation.
UT Southwestern offers several specialized chemotherapy options for liver metastases, including:
- Transarterial chemoembolization, which uses a special catheter to deliver chemotherapeutic drugs directly into the artery supplying the liver
- Hepatic arterial infusion (HAI), which delivers a high dose of chemotherapy though a pump implanted under the skin in the abdomen
Our specialized liver cancer surgeons can often surgically remove all of your liver tumors. The decision to perform this operation is based on multiple factors including your overall health, the number of tumors in your liver, and the type of cancer you have. Radiation therapy can also help control liver metastases that cannot be surgically removed.
In addition, radiofrequency ablation may be used to reduce the risk of the return of liver metastases that cannot be completely removed with surgery, or it may be used in place of surgery for patients with tumors that cannot be safely removed by surgery.
Learn more about treatments for gastrointestinal cancers.
UT Southwestern’s multidisciplinary liver cancer team works together to form an individualized treatment plan for each patient. Our team of specialists sees patients in one clinic, which is unique in cancer care, providing you with the most comprehensive, coordinated, and convenient care possible for primary liver cancer as well as liver metastases.
UT Southwestern offers clinical trials that may provide you with an opportunity to complement traditional therapy for liver cancer or metastases with the newest, most promising treatment strategies. Talk with your doctor to determine if a clinical trial is right for you.
Request an Appointment
To schedule an appointment with a liver cancer specialist, request an appointment or call 214-645-8300.