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Regional Perfusion Therapy for Liver Cancer

Liver cancer can be primary cancer, which means it starts in your liver. It can also be secondary cancer, which spreads to the liver from another part of your body.

Surgeons can remove small liver tumors, but when the tumor grows or cancer spreads, surgery and standard chemo may no longer help. In these cases, regional perfusion therapy can be a good treatment option.

Perfusion treatments direct a powerful dose of radiation or chemotherapy medicine toward your liver tumor. The drug stays in your liver where it kills cancer cells without harming the rest of your body.

The liver has a two-part blood supply. Surgeons can block off one blood supply without affecting the other one. This allows the chemo to stay in your liver and out of your bloodstream.

Because healthy cells aren't exposed to chemo, people have fewer side effects from the treatment.

Though not a cure for advanced liver cancer, regional perfusion therapies may extend and improve the quality of your life by:

  • Slowing liver tumor growth.
  • Shrinking the size of tumors.
  • Protecting the healthy portion of your liver.
  • Maintaining your liver's function.

Perfusion Therapy Treatments for Liver Cancer

UPMC Hillman Cancer Center offers several types of regional perfusion therapy treatments for liver cancer. Your surgeon and care team will work with you to choose the one that's best for your cancer type and treatment goals.

When surgery is no longer an option, doctors may treat advanced liver cancer with IHP. It's helpful in treating metastatic cancers that have spread to the liver and has about a 60 percent response rate.

In IHP, you'll get general anesthesia before going to the OR.

A surgeon isolates and clamps off your liver's incoming and outgoing blood supply. This keeps the chemo in your liver and out of your bloodstream.

A very strong dose of chemo then circulates through the liver for about an hour, killing the cancer cells.

You'll stay in the hospital for at least 10 days to heal from the surgery.

TACE is a minimally invasive treatment for primary or secondary liver cancer. It allows powerful chemo drugs to be in contact with the tumor for a long time.

Because the chemo stays at the tumor site, it doesn't kill healthy cells nearby. At the same time, embolization starves the tumor of the blood, oxygen, and nutrients it needs to grow.

During TACE, doctors:

  • Make a small cut in your groin.
  • Use angiography — an x-ray of the blood vessels — with contrast dye, to thread a catheter through an artery to the tumor site.
  • Place chemo through the catheter while embolizing, or blocking, the blood supply to the tumor.

TACE involves a short hospital stay of up to 48 hours. You should be able to resume your normal routine in about a week. But it may take four to six weeks to feel like yourself again.

Your doctors will check to see how your cancer responded to the treatment. If it's successful in shrinking your liver tumor, they can repeat TACE treatment.

Yttrium-90 internal radiation is a minimally invasive treatment for liver cancer.

Surgeons deliver this radiation by using special glass or resin beads, known as microspheres, that have yttrium-90 embedded in them.

During therapy, surgeons use a thin tube, called a catheter, to insert beads into an artery or blood vessel near the tumor. The beads partially block blood flow to the tumor while the yttrium-90 releases radiation close to it.

Yttrium-90 internal radiation:

  • Needs only light sedation.
  • Targets the tumor but spares any healthy tissues, so side effects are minimal.
  • Takes under an hour in most cases, though you may stay overnight if you have pain or nausea.

Most people recover quickly and can resume their normal routine within 48 hours.

If your cancer responds well, you may have more than one treatment.

With HAI, a pump delivers strong chemo drugs right to your liver. It's effective for cancers that have spread to the liver, like colon or breast cancer.

HAI may help shrink your tumor so you can have surgery, or it might keep new tumors from growing.

During HAI, a surgeon places a small pump under your skin. A thin catheter carries a steady supply of strong chemo drugs from the pump to your liver.

You'll need to go to a doctor's office every two to four weeks to refill your pump with chemo medicine.

Contact Us About Regional Perfusion Therapies for Liver Cancer

Contact the David C. Koch Regional Perfusion Cancer Therapy Center to see if regional perfusion therapy is right for you. Or, call UPMC Hillman Cancer Center at 412-692-2852.