Primary Liver Cancer

At the University of Chicago Center for Gastrointestinal Oncology, we offer a wide range of services for liver cancer care. From surgery to remove cancerous tissue to procedures that starve the blood supply to growing tumors, our physicians are dedicated to providing the most advanced treatment options.

Team Approach to Care

Dr. Posner with patient in clinic

Our liver cancer treatment team is highly respected, bringing together specialists from our cancer and digestive disease programs--two programs ranked among the best in the nation by U.S.News & World Report. This multidisciplinary team includes surgeons, hepatologists, oncologists, interventional radiologists, pain specialists, nurses, and others experienced in caring for liver cancer patients. Because each case is different, our physicians work together to weigh all the options to develop the best treatment plan.

Surgery

Tumor removal (resection) is the only way to cure primary liver cancer. Many malignant liver tumors can be safely removed by surgeons at the University of Chicago medical center.

Mary Keogh More than three years after surgery for liver cancer and lung cancer, Mary Keogh is cancer free. » Read Keogh's story

When evaluating patients for resection, physicians look at the size, number, and location of tumors, as well as the condition of the liver and the overall health of the patient. The goal is to remove tumors while preserving liver function.

Not all patients are candidates for resection. If the cancer has reached an advanced stage, resection may not be performed. If the patient's liver is severely damaged due to cirrhosis, surgery may not be an option.

Chemoembolization

Unfortunately, systemic chemotherapy--cancer drug treatment taken by pill or through infusion into a vein--is usually not successful at treating liver cancer. Therefore, physicians focus on methods to target treatment closer to the tumor.

In a chemoembolization procedure, physicians insert tiny chemotherapy-coated particles into the hepatic artery, a major source of blood to the tumor. These particles slow blood flow, thus starving the tumor of the nutrients it needs to grow. The chemotherapy drug is carried through the blood supply and into the tumor. Over time, the cancer cells die. Chemoembolization is sometimes done to help shrink tumors before resection.

This procedure is a non-surgical procedure performed by an interventional radiologist. The physician inserts thin catheters up into the hepatic artery to deliver the drug-coated material.

Radiofrequency Ablation

Radiofrequency ablation involves the use of special instruments that produce high-frequency radio waves to burn diseased tissue. Physicians insert a needle-like probe into the tumor to heat and destroy the cancer cells. Depending upon the size and location of the tumors, this procedure may be performed using minimally invasive techniques or during an open abdominal surgery. Ablation is an option for some patients who cannot have a resection, or it may be performed during a resection to treat smaller tumors.

Alcohol Ablation

Alcohol ablation, also known as ethanol injection, is the injection of concentrated alcohol directly into the tumor to kill cancerous cells. This procedure may be performed during surgery or by injection directly through the skin (percutaneous ethanol injection). Many patients who are not candidates for resection may benefit from this treatment.

Liver Transplantation

In some cases, patients with liver cancer may benefit from liver transplantation. Many University of Chicago physicians skilled in caring for liver cancer patients are also members of our world-renowned liver transplant team. Since 1984, our doctors have performed more than 1,400 liver transplants--making our program one of the leaders in the nation. We were the first medical center in the United States to perform a living related donor liver transplant. » Learn more about liver transplantation

Pain Control

Many patients with advanced stages of liver cancer will experience pain. We're dedicated to helping patients keep cancer pain under control. Our oncologists and anesthesiologists (pain control physicians) work together to determine the best pain management strategy--from oral medicines to powerful nerve blocks.

Research

At the University of Chicago Center for Gastrointestinal Oncology, our oncologists are studying novel therapies for liver cancer. Clinical trials typically involve the study of new drugs that show promise in slowing the growth of tumors. These treatments are experimental, and are not widely available at other hospitals.

Our hepatologists are conducting long-term outcome studies of liver cancer patients through a national liver cancer database, with the goal of identifying the natural history of liver cancer and the best treatment protocols.

Helping Those at Risk for Developing Liver Cancer

Conditions such as cirrhosis, hepatitis B or C, and hemochromatosis can increase the risk for developing liver cancer. Patients with these conditions should be monitored closely by a hepatologist. At the University of Chicago Center for Liver Diseases, our hepatologists are highly skilled at caring for patients with these diseases, and can offer several types of treatments that slow disease progression. Here, our liver experts are conducting trials of new medications for viral hepatitis and other chronic liver diseases. » Learn more about care services offered through the Center for Liver Diseases


Information from the National Cancer Institute

Conditions

  • Angiosarcoma
  • Cholangiocarcinoma
  • Hepatoblastoma
  • Hepatocellular Adenoma
  • Hepatocellular Carcinoma

Clinical Trials