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Liver Cancer Follow-up Treatment: A Guide for Survivors

Liver Cancer Follow-up Treatment: A Guide for Survivors

Liver cancer occurs when the cells lining the organ turn cancerous over a prolonged period. This cancer originates in the liver. When cancer spreads from another organ or part of the body, the medical condition is known as secondary liver cancer or metastatic liver cancer. Diagnosis at the early stages of the medical condition followed by surgical intervention is the only way to quick recovery. Treating liver cancer may be a long-term process. You will have to involve a follow-up treatment for liver cancer for many years in such a case.

Before directly jumping to the follow-up treatment for liver cancer, let’s first know the treatment options in general.

Liver Cancer Treatment Options


The treatment options are as follows:

Partial hepatectomy

This surgery is usually suggested when the tumour is small and in its early stages. Surgical removal of this tumor ensures that the cancerous cells can be prevented from metastasizing or spreading to the surrounding organs and gradually to other organs and parts of the body.

Liver transplant

When the tumor is less than 5 cms in length or several tumors are less than 3 cms each, a liver transplant may be advised. This is not suitable for tumors that have already grown bigger because they might develop a risk of regrowth of the tumor.

A successful liver transplant reduces the risk of cancer returning and also ensures the normal functioning of the liver. However, the success of the transplant is dependent on whether the body will accept the new liver or reject it as a foreign object.

Advanced tumors

Advanced stages of liver cancer imply that cancer has metastasized. The further the cancer has spread, the more advanced is the condition and the lesser the chances of recovery. This requires a combination of several treatments over a long period.

And also it requires an intense follow-up treatment for liver cancer. The treatments recommended at this stage of the medical condition are as below.

  • Ablative therapy or cryoablation: Cryoablation involves the destruction of the tumor by freezing. In ablative therapy, radio waves, heat, or electromagnetic waves are administered. Alcohol is also applied to the tumor to restrict its growth.
  • Radiation therapy: Radiation or powerful rays are administered for destroying cancer cells. This may cause some side effects like nausea, vomiting, and fatigue.
  • Chemotherapy: This involves injecting anti-cancer drugs into the bloodstream or a large blood vessel located in the liver to destroy the cancer cells. These drugs can also be injected into the tumour, mechanically or surgically by the surgeon through a procedure called chemoembolisation. Chemotherapy is often recommended along with radiation therapy.

follow-up treatment for liver cancer

Follow-up Treatment for Liver Cancer

As we discussed before, treating advanced stages of liver cancer is a challenge. It is a long-term treatment and probably a life-long one too.

However, this does not necessarily mean that cancer that has been successfully treated while in its early stages does not have a risk of recurring. The usual follow-up treatment for liver cancer is as below:

1. Despite successful treatment, it might have never been cured completely or may recur in some other part of the body.

In such cases, radiation therapy or chemotherapy or a combination of both or other therapies may be continued as follow-up treatment for liver cancer to keep the medical condition under check.

2. Even after completing treatment, the patient will have to be kept under close watch through follow-up visits to the doctor.

He/she will ask questions about the recurrence of symptoms of liver cancer or other symptoms that you might be experiencing. These other symptoms might be cancer manifesting itself in some other part of the body or a new medical condition. Irrespective of the return of certain symptoms or other new symptoms, medical tests will be recommended at regular intervals.

This is to confirm the absence or reappearance of symptoms of cancer. These medical tests include liver function tests (AST/ALT), alpha-fetoprotein (AFP), and imaging tests like CT scan, MRI scan, and ultrasound.

3. These tests also check for the signs of side effects of treatment.

Some side effects might continue for a long span of time. While others may become apparent only after several hours of the completed treatment. In this case, the physician may recommend more suitable alternatives as follow-up treatment for liver cancer.

4. Patients who have undergone surgery, ablative therapy, or liver transplant as a treatment for liver cancer are usually advised to schedule follow-up visits.

These are recommended every 3 to 6 months for the first 2 years after treatment. After the completion of 2 years, the follow-up visits can be lessened to every 6 to 12 months. This means that the patient needs to get all the medical tests done before the visit to the doctor.

5. Liver transplant requires specific follow-up treatment because the doctor needs to evaluate every few months about how well the body is adapting to or rejecting the new organ.

That aside, the usual follow-up procedure for post-surgery after-care and analyzing the side effects are also applicable. Doctors generally prescribe strong medications to ensure that the new organ is well accepted by the body.

These drugs can have their own side effects like weakening the immune system. This may leave the body susceptible to the risk of infections. The medical experts in the liver transplant team usually explain to the patients about the warning signs and symptoms of a recurrence or side effects that they should watch out for.

These symptoms or any other signs that raise suspicion should be reported immediately for urgent analysis.

6. Prescriptions will depend on the cause of liver cancer.

If hepatitis B or hepatitis C had been the reason behind liver cancer, the doctor may recommend medications for keeping the symptoms of these diseases under control.

7. Diet and lifestyle changes are as important for post-treatment care of liver cancer.

A regular fitness routine along with a well-balanced diet. There is no conclusive evidence to show that a healthy lifestyle reduces the risk of cancer returning.

However, there is no harm in maintaining a healthy life – if not for cancer, it will definitely be beneficial for your overall physical, emotional, and psychological well-being. Consumption of alcohol and smoking should be strictly avoided.

8. Last, but not least, treatment for cancer can be stressful. Support is key.

The follow-up treatment for liver cancer further prolongs the process and adds to the anxiety. Dealing with the side effects of the treatment, the thought of a probable recurrence of cancer or being vulnerable to other diseases further add to the immense anxiety.

This, in turn, increases the risk of other psychological conditions like severe depression. Hence, it is essential to have a strong support group of friends and family members or professional counsellors, or both to build on emotional and mental strength.

Learn more about liver cancer, here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Living as a Liver Cancer Survivor https://www.cancer.org/cancer/liver-cancer/after-treatment/follow-up.html Accessed on 14/04/2020

Liver cancer: Approaching a personalized care https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4520430/ Accessed on 14/04/2020

Liver Cancer: Multidisciplinary Care Matters https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/treatment-tests-and-therapies/liver-cancer-multidisciplinary-care-matters Accessed on 14/04/2020

Live cancer Treatment https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/liver-cancer/treatment/ Accessed on 14/04/2020

Liver Cancer Treatment by Stage

https://www.cancer.org/cancer/liver-cancer/treating/by-stage.html Accessed June 9, 2021




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Written by Nikita Bhalla Updated Nov 09, 2021
Medically reviewed by Alaga Health