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Can liver cancer be cured?

Liver cancer can sometimes be cured by being cut out by a surgeon. This depends on 3 things

  • How big and how widespread the cancer is within the liver
  • The kind of cancer and where it started
  • How well the rest of the liver is working

Most liver cancers are not primary liver cancer, but secondary liver cancer. This is important. Secondary liver cancer means that the cancer started somewhere else in the body and spread to the liver. It could have started in the bowel or breast, for example. This means that the cells in the liver will be bowel cancer or breast cancer cells, and not liver cancer cells. If this is the case, removing the part of the liver with cancer is unlikely to cure you because there will still be cancer cells left inside your body.

If you have primary liver cancer it may be possible to cut it out. If it is small and just on one side of the liver, the surgeon may remove it, leaving half the liver behind. If it is on both sides of the liver or very big, this usually means surgery would not be safe. Surgeons do sometimes remove the whole liver and transplant a donor liver. Whether this is suitable for you depends on why you have liver cancer, how advanced it is and on your general health.

Even if the cancer cannot be cut out, there are treatments for some kinds of liver cancer which can control the tumour for some time. There are several different ways of destroying tumours in the liver. These can be used for some secondary cancers in the liver, as well as for primary liver cancer. With secondary cancer, they won't get rid of the cancer completely, but they can help to keep it under control. We have a whole section on primary liver cancer, including a section on surgery and on liver transplant. There is more about secondary liver cancer in the breast cancer section and colorectal cancer section.

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Updated: 12 June 2013