Is Liver Cancer Curable?

Cancer can affect any part of the body, and where it affects determines the odds of surviving and recovering from the illness. The liver can be affected by cancer, as can any part of the body. Cancer that originates in the liver is primary liver cancer, while secondary liver cancer originates elsewhere and spreads to the liver.

The liver is located in the upper right area of the abdomen and handles several functions for the body, including:

  • Storage and breakdown of glycogen, a fuel made from sugars
  • Processing fats and proteins from digested foods
  • Proteins for blood clotting are made in the liver.
  • Medication, toxins and poisons, including alcohol, are removed from the body by the liver.
  • Bile, the substance in the gut that breaks down fat and allows their absorption into the bowel, is created in the liver and sent from there to the gut via the bile duct.

Is Liver Cancer Curable?

It is a challenge to cure any type of liver cancer. Primary liver cancer is most treatable if detected early. However, this is not something that occurs often. Secondary liver cancer, or metastatic liver cancer, is difficult to treat because it has already spread from another location. The treatment for liver cancer is typically focused on comfort for the patient and helping them to live longer when possible. The complexity of the organ and its blood vessels and bile ducts makes surgery nearly impossible.

For patients with early-stage tumors, removal via surgery increases their odds of overcoming the cancer. However, this is only when the tumors are discovered early, which is not the most common situation.

Treatments for Liver Cancer and Their Prognosis


Is liver cancer curable? In most cases, it's not. Because liver cancer is usually not caught in an early stage and is usually a result of metastasis from another location in the body, the rate of cure for this type of cancer is low. And treatments for liver cancer at different stages vary:

1. For Potentially Resectable Cancer

This category applies to a very small number of liver cancer patients. These patients have early-stage tumors that were caught and are eligible for surgery (partial hepatectomy). The size of the tumor is a key to the success of this treatment. Patients with large tumors or tumors that have impacted nearby blood vessels are not good candidates as these tend to recur or affect other areas of the body even after surgery.

 2. For Potentially Transplantable Cancer

Liver cancer patients with early-stage tumors that have an otherwise unhealthy liver may be eligible for liver transplant. The success rate, when a liver can be found and a transplant completed, is high. However, the wait for a viable liver is long and other treatments, such as ablation or embolization, must be tried in the meantime.

 3. For Unresectable Liver Cancers

In this case, though the cancer has not spread to other locations in the body, the tumor cannot be removed with partial hepatectomy because it is too close to a blood vessel, it is too large, there are many tumors or the cancer spreads and covers most part of the liver. When this is the case, there are treatment options like ablation or embolization, chemotherapy, and radiation. 

These treatments can help alleviate symptoms to improve quality of life and perhaps extend your life for a certain period.

4. For Advanced (Metastatic) Liver Cancers

Advanced liver cancers usually have spread to the lymph nodes and other areas of the body. So is liver cancer curable in this case? No. Surgery is not an option in this case. However, if your liver is otherwise healthy, there are certain drugs such as sorafenib that can be used to target the cancer and help prevent the spread. Radiation might be helpful in decreasing pain and other symptoms for this type of cancer as well.

5. For Recurrent Liver Cancer

This type of cancer has come back after treatment. The recurrence can be in the same area as the original cancer, which is called local, or it can be in another area of the body and therefore is called distant. When this happens, the treatment options will depend on how severe the recurrence is, where the cancer is located and the condition of the liver and how well it continues to function.

  • For patients with localized resectable disease, recurrence can mean more surgery or ablation or embolization eligibility.
  • For those patients with widespread cancer, chemotherapy or targeted therapy has the potential for success.
  • Meanwhile, the option of a clinical trial is available, depending on the location of the cancer and the severity. A discussion with a doctor regarding the clinical trials that are occurring at any given time is worthwhile.

NOTE: Is liver cancer curable? Not likely and it is important to know that the prognosis for liver cancer is usually negative. People who develop liver cancer usually already have an unhealthy liver and are generally in poor health. The most likely to overcome liver cancer are those who have tumors that are small and found early. Therefore, the success rate is low because the number of patients with this ideal situation is few. Treatments can delay the progression of the cancer. However, a cure is not typical for this type of cancer. 

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