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Liver Cancer

When you or a loved one needs liver cancer treatment, count on the experts at the University of Michigan Health Rogel Cancer Center. Our specialists diagnose and treat all liver cancer types. We specialize in treating complex liver cancers with options that offer hope.

Liver Cancer Care: Why Choose Rogel Cancer Center?

Liver cancers can be challenging to treat. Our gastrointestinal (GI) cancer experts work together to tackle the toughest liver cancers with the most advanced treatment options. Program highlights include:

  • Team-based care: Our experienced specialists have extra education and training in treating liver tumors. We work together to treat liver cancers at every stage, including in people who have underlying chronic liver disease. Meet our team.
  • Care for complex disease: Our specialists treat people with cancer that begins in the liver (primary liver cancer). We also specialize in treating cancers that have spread to the liver from somewhere else in the body (metastatic liver cancer). Our experts listen to you and learn about your goals for treatment, ensuring you get customized care.
  • Precise diagnosis: Our radiology experts specialize in interpreting abdominal images to provide accurate diagnosis. We use these images to design the most effective treatment plan.
  • Sophisticated treatments: Our experts use the latest evidence-based treatments such as hepatic artery infusion pump (HAIP) therapy and Yttrium-90 microspheres. We also offer liver transplant for some people with liver cancer.

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About Liver Cancers

Your liver plays an important role in keeping you healthy by filtering toxins (such as drugs and substances like caffeine and alcohol) from your blood. When cells in the liver grow in ways that aren’t typical, liver cancer may develop.

You might not notice any liver cancer symptoms in the early stages of cancer. But symptoms can include:

  • Abdominal fullness, pain or swelling
  • Decreased appetite or unexplained weight loss
  • Feeling full right away when eating
  • Itching
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Yellow skin or eyes (jaundice)

Rogel Cancer Center specialists begin by asking about your medical history. We talk with you to learn more about you and look at the results of any tests you may have had elsewhere.

We typically diagnose liver cancer using imaging tests. The skilled radiologists on our gastrointestinal (GI) cancers team are experts in taking and interpreting abdominal images. We use:

  • Computed tomography (CT) scan: Specialists use X-rays to take detailed images of your abdomen. We use these images to locate and assess liver tumors.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): Our experts use a test that creates images with radio waves and magnets. We interpret these images to determine tumor size, location and type. We also look for blocked blood vessels in or near the liver.
  • Ultrasound: Specialists move a probe (transducer) over the skin of the abdomen. This probe uses sound waves to create detailed pictures of the liver and any liver tumors that are present.

Occasionally, our specialists may recommend a liver biopsy. We take a small sample of liver tissue for our pathology experts to examine under a microscope to look for cancer.

We treat all liver cancer types, including:

Primary liver cancer

Cancer that begins in the liver is primary liver cancer. These cancers include:

  • Bile duct cancer: Bile duct cancer begins in the lining of tubes that carry bile from the liver to the gallbladder (small bile ducts). Bile duct cancer inside the liver is also known as cholangiocarcinoma.
  • Hepatocellular carcinoma: Hepatocellular carcinoma is the most common type of liver cancer. Cancer cells may form a single tumor or may be spread throughout the liver.

Our liver cancer experts also treat gallbladder cancer. Gallbladder cancer occurs when cells in the lining of the gallbladder grow in ways they shouldn’t.

Metastatic liver cancer

Metastatic, or secondary, liver cancer is cancer that began somewhere else in the body and spread to the liver. Many types of cancer can spread to the liver, including colon cancer, pancreatic cancer and stomach cancer.

Liver Cancer Treatment at Rogel Cancer Center

The liver cancer experts at Rogel Cancer Center specialize in treating the most complex liver cancers. We get to know you so we can understand your goals before developing a treatment plan. We offer:

Liver cancer surgery

Our expert surgeons develop plans to remove even the most challenging liver tumors. Surgeries we use include:

  • Partial hepatectomy: Experts remove the part of the liver containing cancer in healthy people with good liver function.
  • Liver transplant: We remove the entire diseased liver and replace it with a healthy liver from a donor. Experts consider tumor size and location, your liver health and overall health in determining if liver transplant is right for you.

Ablation therapy for liver cancer

When surgery isn’t possible, our experts may use ablation techniques to shrink tumors. We use different types of energy to target and destroy cancerous tissue, including:

  • Irreversible electroporation: Specialists insert multiple thin probes into the liver to destroy cancer cells without excessive heat. This permits ablation of tumors that are close to other critical structures in the liver.
  • Microwave ablation: Experts insert a thin probe into liver tumors to burn cancer cells with electromagnetic waves.

Interventional oncology for liver cancer

Interventional oncologists use techniques known as trans-arterial therapies to remove and shrink liver tumors. These therapies include:

  • Trans-arterial chemoembolization: Specialists insert a thin flexible tube (catheter) into one of the liver’s main blood vessels (hepatic artery). They inject tiny beads, seeds or pellets that contain chemotherapy drugs to deliver the drug close to the tumor.
  • Trans-arterial embolization: Experts use a catheter to inject tiny particles into the hepatic artery near the tumor. These particles block blood supply to the tumor, causing it to shrink.

Radiation oncology for liver cancer

Our radiation oncology specialists use advanced radiation techniques to shrink liver tumors. Experts employ these techniques when surgery isn’t possible to provide palliative care and help manage cancer symptoms. We also shrink larger liver tumors so they can be removed surgically or undergo other therapies. We offer:

  • External beam radiation therapy: We use a machine to aim energy beams directly at liver tumors to destroy cancer cells.
  • Stereotactic body radiotherapy (SBRT): Experts deliver strong, precise radiation doses to liver tumors using an image-guided system.
  • Yttrium-90: Experts inject radioactive microspheres into the hepatic artery. The beads stay in the blood vessel and give off radiation near the tumor. Yttrium-90 helps shrink liver tumors by guiding the radiation very precisely into the tumor.

Systemic therapy for liver cancer

Our experts use certain medications that you take orally (pills) or through a flexible tube placed in a vein (intravenously). We may use:

  • Chemotherapy: Drugs that circulate through your bloodstream and kill cancer cells
  • Immunotherapy: Drugs that tell your immune system to destroy cancer cells
  • Targeted therapy: Drugs that attack specific cancer cells while sparing healthy cells

Hepatic artery infusion pump (HAIP) therapy for liver cancer

For some cancers that are widespread throughout the liver, our experts may use hepatic artery infusion pump (HAIP) therapy. Specialists implant a small device under the skin of the abdomen and insert a thin flexible tube (catheter) into the hepatic artery. The pump delivers a high dose of floxuridine, a chemotherapy drug, directly to the liver.

Your doctor may have you receive HAIP for two weeks and then take two weeks off. You may have HAIP in addition to systemic chemotherapy. This therapy helps improve survival rates in people with liver cancer.

Clinical Trials for Liver Cancer

Rogel Cancer Center experts lead and participate in many clinical trials of new therapies to treat GI cancers. For example, our liver cancer specialists are currently leading a study of histotripsy, a way to destroy liver tumors with ultrasound waves. Learn more about our GI cancer clinical trials and ask your care team if you’re eligible to participate.

Multidisciplinary Liver Cancer Care

The specialists at Rogel Cancer Center work together to treat all types of liver cancer in our multidisciplinary clinics. Our specialist team offers access to expert diagnoses and the most advanced treatments for liver cancers. The multidisciplinary approach at Rogel Cancer Center ensures you benefit from our team’s years of training, skill and experience.

Support and Resources for Liver Cancer

When you need information and resources, our GI cancer support services are there for you. Our patient navigators make sure you get the support you need to help you feel your best during and after treatment.

Request an Appointment

Learn more about how we diagnose and treat liver cancer at Rogel Cancer Center. Call 734-647-8902 to make an appointment.