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What is chemotherapy for liver cancer?

Chemotherapy is the treatment of cancer with drugs that can destroy or slow the growth of cancer cells. The goals of chemotherapy treatment are to control the cancer, keep it from spreading by slowing the cancer's growth and improve or reduce the symptoms of the disease. Chemotherapy is more than undergoing infusions or taking pills. For patients with liver cancer who need chemotherapy, this means that a hepatologist or medical oncologist who specializes in liver cancer care is part of the team and oversees the delivery of chemotherapy.

Multidisciplinary Liver Tumor Care

When liver tumor patients at the University of Michigan receive this therapy, it means that doctors and nurses are providing cancer care according to a personalized treatment plan developed by specialists in the U-M Rogel Cancer Center's multidisciplinary tumor program. Members are experts in hepatology, surgery, medical oncology, radiation oncology, and diagnostic and interventional radiology. Their frequent meetings allow patients to have the expertise of a multidisciplinary team of physicians with a focus on liver cancer - without having to schedule individual appointments.

Chemotherapy can be very challenging in the treatment of liver cancer: to date, most chemotherapy drugs are not very effective for hepatocellular carcinoma - also called HCC or hepatoma, a type of primary liver cancer. However, there are several multi-targeted drugs such as sorafenib, lenvatinib, regorafenib, cabozantinib and ramucirumab that are FDA approved options for use by patients with hepatocellular carcinoma. In addition, immunotherapy drugs, such as pembrolizumab and nivolumab are also used in the treatment on this cancer to prolong survival and preserve quality of life. In some situations, tumors may be "down-staged" for additional therapies. For other primary (such as bile duct cancer) and secondary liver cancers (metastatic), many other chemotherapy regimens are available that can provide a tumor response and potentially extend survival with good quality of life. The standard of care chemotherapy regimens used for bile duct cancer, include gemcitabine plus cisplatin, or gemcitabine plus oxaliplatin, or gemcitabine plus abraxane. For patients who are interested in new investigational therapies, research trials are always available for consideration.

For more information about chemotherapy treatment at the U-M Rogel Cancer Center, please see our What to Expect from Chemotherapy webpages.

Make an appointment/referral, or have your questions answered

The Cancer AnswerLine™ is staffed by oncology nurses and is just a phone call away to answer your questions or to assist you in making an appointment.

Please call 800-865-1125 to make an appointment or for the answers to any questions you have.

NOTE: Children and young adults receive treatment in the Solid Tumor Oncology Program, part of C.S. Mott Children's Hospital.

If you would like to refer a patient, please contact our M-Line service: 800-962-3555. For more information, visit our Make an Appointment web page.

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