Liver cancer care at every step
Whether you’re worried about developing liver cancer, you’re going through treatment or you’re trying to stay well after treatment, we’re here for you every step of the way.
What does the liver do?
Your liver is a major organ that acts as a filter for the blood that comes from your digestive, or GI, tract. Your liver also:
- Helps with digestion
- Turns food into energy
- Prevents infection
- Stores vital nutrients
What is liver cancer?
Liver cancer develops when normal, healthy cells in the liver begin to grow and function differently. These cancerous cells build up and form a mass called a tumor, which exists as a lump inside the body and can spread.
Types of liver cancer
There are several types of liver cancer, including:
- Hepatocellular carcinoma – The most common form of liver cancer, it develops within the cells inside the liver. It is most frequently seen in people who have liver damage due to prolonged alcohol use.
- Cholangiocarcinoma – This uncommon form of cancer develops within bile ducts, the tubes that connect your liver, gallbladder and small intestine. These tubes are responsible for carrying bile from the liver to the gallbladder to break down fats.
- Hepatoblastoma – An extremely rare and aggressive form of liver cancer, this type is found within blood vessels inside the liver.
- Angiosarcoma – An extremely rare form of liver cancer that is typically found in children under age 3.
What are the symptoms of liver cancer?
In its early stages, liver cancer may not show any symptoms. However, for different stages of liver cancer, symptoms vary and may include:
- Bloating, especially after eating
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes)
- Nausea or vomiting
- Sudden, unexplained weight loss
- Itchy skin
- Swelling or fluid retention around the abdomen (also known as ascites)
Having these symptoms does not mean you have liver cancer. There are several liver-related conditions that can cause similar symptoms, including hepatitis or fatty liver disease. If you are experiencing symptoms, it’s important to speak to your doctor to rule out any underlying health conditions.
Liver cancer risk factors
Certain behaviors, genetics and risk factors can increase your chances of developing liver cancer. These include:
- Chronic liver conditions: If you’ve previously had hepatitis, cirrhosis of the liver or another chronic liver condition, your risk for developing liver cancer increases.
- Prolonged or heavy alcohol use: drinking alcohol heavily or for a prolonged period of time increases your risk of developing liver cancer.
- Smoking: Tobacco use, including smokeless tobacco, cigarettes and pipes, increases your risk of developing liver cancer.
- Family history: If you have a family member who has been diagnosed with liver cancer, your risk of developing it increases.
- Diabetes: Those with Type 2 diabetes are more likely to develop liver cancer than those who do not have the condition.
- Age: Your risk of developing liver cancer increases as you get older, with most people being diagnosed after age 60.
- Other risk factors: Other risk factors that can increase your risk of developing liver cancer include:
- Being overweight
- Being female
- Using anabolic steroids
- Overuse of certain pain relievers
Diagnosing liver cancer
Screening tests that use the most advanced technology can detect liver cancer in its earliest stages, when it’s most treatable. Some of the diagnostic tests your doctor may perform to test for liver cancer include:
- FibroScan® – A noninvasive ultrasound procedure that can identify changes in your liver.
- Liver biopsy – During a biopsy, your doctor removes a small sample of tissue using a thin needle or during a surgical procedure. They examine the tissue under a microscope for any cancerous cells (also called malignant cells).
- Blood tests – These tests can evaluate issues with your liver, gallbladder or surrounding organs.
- Imaging tests – Diagnostic imaging tests, such as ultrasounds, MRIs, CT scans and PET scans, produce detailed pictures of your liver. They can determine the size of any tumors and whether they have grown or shrunk, or whether cancerous cells have spread to other areas of the body.
What is the treatment for liver cancer?
Your team of liver cancer specialists includes surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, pathologists, radiologists, hepatologists (doctors who specialize in treating liver conditions), nurse navigators and other support staff. They work together and develop a personalized plan that puts you at the center to best treat your cancer.
Depending on the stage or type of your liver cancer, one or more of the following treatments may be recommended.
Surgery is a common method for treating liver cancer. The latest techniques to treat cancers in the liver, including minimally invasive surgery, can offer you the best outcome and path for healing.
Our surgeons are highly trained and board certified, which means they have passed an optional national exam to demonstrate their medical expertise. Many of our surgeons are also fellowship trained, holding additional training in specific types of cancer surgery.
Chemotherapy is a drug-based treatment designed to slow the growth of or shrink tumors. Chemotherapy drugs can be given through an IV or taken in a pill form.
Your chemotherapy may be given:
- Before your surgery, to attempt to reduce the size of the tumor
- After your surgery, to destroy any cancer that remains in the area and reduce the chances of the cancer coming back
- Along with radiation therapy, which together are known as chemoradiation or chemoradiotherapy
Our team includes doctors called medical oncologists who specialize in chemotherapy. You’ll also have access to clinical trials that include testing new chemotherapy drugs and combinations of medications that aren’t widely available.
Staying comfortable while you undergo treatment is important. Our state-of-the-art clinics, many of which have been recently renovated, offer heated seats and individual TVs to help you relax during treatment.
Radiation oncology uses radiation to control or destroy harmful cancer cells, with tools to treat each unique cancer.
Your clinical team can offer conventional radiotherapy treatments that include:
- External beam radiation, which uses special technology to send X-ray radiation (photons) to the tumor from outside the body
- Internal radiation (brachytherapy), which targets the tumor using safe levels of radiation inside the body through radioactive tubes or radioactive seeds
- Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), which uses a 3D image of the tumor to deliver high-precision radiotherapy that fits its exact outline
- Image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT), which is used to localize the radiation beam daily and treat cancers in areas of the body that move during and between treatments. This includes cone beam CT scans to accurately view the tumor and target it during treatment.
- Stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT), which uses precise conformal beams of radiation to focus high doses of radiation to just the tumor, with very little damage to surrounding healthy tissues
CyberKnife® robotic radiosurgery is a non-invasive treatment for tumors that are hard to reach or inoperable. This robotic therapy targets complex tumors — including cancerous and non-cancerous tumors — by delivering high doses of targeted radiation safely, anywhere in the body. It’s the most advanced technology in the U.S. — and it’s offered at the Frank M. and Dorothea Henry Cancer Center at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Wilkes-Barre.
There are no incisions involved, which means quicker treatments, less pain and faster recovery. Learn more about CyberKnife.
Liver cancer care at Geisinger
Your cancer journey is just that — yours. We understand how personal it is, which is why our cancer care team gets to know you along your journey. While some of our cancer specialists are trained in treating specific cancers, our entire team works together to help you fight your cancer.
You need leading-edge treatments and personalized cancer care. That’s why we offer:
- The knowledge you need – Your cancer team is powered by surgeons, doctors and specialists with years of training and experience. Their expertise has been honed by treating many people with liver cancer every year. And their focus is on delivering the care best suited to your needs.
- Care from all sides – Cancer isn’t simple, so we put all our best minds to work. Your care team is multidisciplinary, which means it has many physicians from different specialties who come together to create a personalized treatment plan for you. That means you can see your care team in one location, all during the same visit.
- Care designed for you, where you live – With locations throughout northeast, central and south-central Pennsylvania, our experienced cancer team provides consultations and comprehensive care. We offer leading-edge treatment options and tailored-to-you care, backed by the expertise and innovation of a nationally recognized health system.
- Liver Care Center – Whether you’re looking for a second opinion or your care journey is just starting, our specialized Liver Care Center is devoted solely to treating liver disease, including liver cancer.
- Comprehensive specialty care – From chemotherapy, radiation and minimally invasive surgery options to national clinical trials and genetic testing, our liver cancer specialists are dedicated to offering innovative treatment options and personalized care in convenient locations, so you don’t have to travel far. We’ll work with you to develop a personalized care plan based on your individual needs.
- Backed by a liver transplant team – Should you need a liver transplant, our transplant surgery team is powered by people with the expertise and experience that come from treating many people with liver cancer. And their focus is on delivering the care best suited to your needs.
- Leading-edge clinical trials – Our cancer research and clinical trials give you access to new treatments before they become widely available. Participating in a trial may help you get better even if standard approaches haven’t worked. Find a clinical trial.
- Genetic testing and counseling programs – Our cancer genetics programs determine whether you face a higher-than-normal cancer risk. Special programs such as MyCode®, which are only available at Geisinger, detect the earliest signs of certain cancers so you can start treatment right away. Our care and guidance may even help you avoid a cancer diagnosis. Learn about MyCode.
- Cancer survivorship program – Just because your treatment is complete doesn’t mean your journey has ended. We offer a variety of support resources focused on helping you live your healthiest life. Learn about patient resources.