Liver and Biliary Tract Cancer Treatment

Expert treatment options for liver and biliary cancers.

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Cancer specialist discussion liver cancer treatment options with patient

There are many treatment choices for liver and biliary tract cancer. Which may work best for you will depend on a number of factors. These include the cancer type, the tumor size and where it is, and the stage of the cancer. Factors also include your age, overall health, and what side effects you’ll find acceptable.

You may have questions and concerns about your treatment options. You may also want to know how you’ll feel and function after treatment, and if you’ll have to change your normal activities.

Your oncologist, or cancer specialist, is the best person to answer your questions. They can tell you what your treatment choices are, how well they’re expected to work, and what the risks and side effects are. Your healthcare provider may advise a specific treatment. Or you may be offered more than one, and asked to decide which one you’d like to use. It can be hard to make this decision. It's important to take the time you need to make the best decision.

Understanding the goals of treatment for liver cancer

For some liver cancers, the goal of treatment is to cure the cancer. If a cure isn’t possible, treatment may be used to shrink the cancer or keep it under control. Treatment can also improve your quality of life by helping to control symptoms caused by the cancer. The goal of liver cancer treatment is to do one or more of these things:

  • Remove the cancer in the liver while doing as little damage as possible to nearby areas
  • Kill cancer cells or keep them from growing or spreading
  • Keep the cancer from coming back or delay its return
  • Ease symptoms of the cancer, such as pain or blockages

Each type of treatment has a different goal. Talk to your oncologist about treatment goals so you know what to expect.

Liver and biliary tract cancer treatment options

There are several types of treatment for liver and biliary cancer, and many people undergo a combination of treatments.

  • Surgery aims to remove the tumor.  Surgery can be effective, especially for early stage cancers.   However, for many people it is not an option.
  • Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing throughout the body.
  • Radiation uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells. It may be used when surgery or other treatments aren't good options.
  • Interventional radiology uses images from CT, X-ray, ultrasound, MRI and other tests to guide the tools needed to reduce tumors. These approaches are sometimes used for people who cannot have surgery.
    • Ablation destroys selected liver tumors with a probe inserted directly into the tumor that creates heat with electrical energy. The probe is inserted through the skin or as a surgical procedure.
    • Transarterial chemoembolization or TACE uses chemotherapy drugs, often in the form of tiny beads coated with drugs, that are injected into the hepatic (liver) artery that supplies the liver tumor. A substance can then be injected to block the artery to keep the drugs in place.
    • Transarterial radioembolization or using Yttrium-90 (Y-90) is similar to TACE but uses tiny radioactive beads that are injected into the hepatic artery to deliver radiation directly to a tumor. Y-90 treatment for liver tumors may be available through a clinical trial (research study).

Talk to your doctor about these and other options for treating liver and biliary cancer. There may also be a clinical trial (research study) for which you are eligible. Researchers are discovering new therapies for treating cancer all the time, giving doctors new resources for your care. 

Experts in treating liver cancer

Legacy Cancer Institute, located in Portland, OR, ranks among the nation’s best cancer programs. Our team features some of the region’s most recognized specialists who work together to diagnose and develop a personalized treatment plan for you. Find the right provider and treatment close to home.

Legacy Cancer Institute is accredited as an integrated network cancer program by the American College of surgeons Commission on Cancer (CoC). Learn more about our quality cancer care.

Working together for you

Our cancer experts work together with a common goal: delivering the right care for you.

A range of specialists collaborate regularly in meetings called tumor boards to discuss the best plan for your care. Your treatment plan is made just for you, depending on your general health, your age, your particular cancer and its growth.

Legacy Health collaborates with the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute to advance cancer care in our region. By working together, you benefit from the strength of both leaders in cancer care. As an integrated community cancer program for adults, we make sure that you have access to the latest treatments, technology and research available.

What happens next

Many cancer treatments can cause challenging side effects. Your cancer team is dedicated to helping you manage these symptoms in the best ways possible. Comfort care can treat symptoms to help improve your quality of life; this is also called palliative care.

To see how well your treatment is working, some of the tests used to diagnose and stage your cancer may be repeated. Your doctor uses these tests to decide whether to stop, change or continue treatment based on the results. These tests can also determine if cancer has returned. Whenever possible, we work to stop the growth of cancer and reduce the chance of cancer coming back.

More support

You are not alone. Legacy offers support throughout your cancer journey, as well as care for your emotional, social and spiritual needs.