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There are a number of treatments available that can effectively slow the development of liver disease that can’t be treated surgically – which remains the only certain way of achieving long term remission of primary liver cancer.

These other treatments don’t offer a cure but they can control the symptoms – in particular they can reduce the worst of any discomfort associated with liver disease.

Palliative treatments include:

  • Systemic chemotherapy – use of anticancer drugs that travel through the blood to all cells in the body
  • Transarterial chemoembolisation (TACE)
  • Radio frequency ablation (RFA)
  • Cryotherapy – the use of extreme cold, created by liquid nitrogen or argon gas, to destroy abnormal tissue. It can be used to treat primary liver cancer (HCC) that has not spread. It can also be used to treat secondary liver cancer that has spread to the liver from another site such as the colon or rectum.
  • Laser induced thermotherapy (LITT) – the use of heat applied directly to the tumour tissue to remove it. The procedure is guided by the use of MRI. It has been used to treat cancer that has spread to the liver from the colon/rectum (colorectal liver metastases) which cannot be treated by liver resection.
  • Yttrium-90 radioembolisation - an emerging treatment for secondary liver disorders that in some patients has successfully stabilised the size of the tumour. It has been used when traditional chemotherapy has failed.

A clinical trial is underway, sponsored by the University Health Network in Toronto, to consider the efficacy of radiotherapy treatment in controlling discomfort and other symptoms in patients diagnosed with both primary and secondary liver cancer.