Chemotherapy for secondary liver cancer
Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill, shrink or slow the growth of cancer cells. The type of drugs you are given will depend on where in the body the cancer first started. For example, if you have cancer of the breast that has spread to the liver, you will have chemotherapy designed to treat breast cancer.
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How it is given
Most people receive a combination of two or three chemotherapy drugs. Depending on the aim of treatment, chemotherapy may be given as a short course over a few months or it may be given as a longer course over many months or years. Your doctor will talk to you about how long your treatment will last. The drugs may be injected into a vein (given intravenously) and/or swallowed as tablets.
When it may be used
Chemotherapy may be used at different times:
- before surgery, to shrink the secondary cancer in the liver and make it easier to remove – this is called neoadjuvant chemotherapy
- after surgery, to get rid of any remaining cancer cells – this is known as adjuvant chemotherapy
- to slow down cancer growth and reduce symptoms such as pain – this may be called palliative treatment.
Chemotherapy drugs circulate throughout the body and can affect normal, healthy cells as well as cancer cells. This can cause a range of side effects.
Depending on the type of chemotherapy drug used, side effects may include:
- loss of appetite
- hair loss
- skin changes
- tingling, numbness or pain in fingers and toes (peripheral neuropathy)
- mouth sores.
People react to chemotherapy differently – some people have few side effects, while others have more. Most side effects are temporary, and there are ways to prevent or manage them.
For more on this, see our general section on Chemotherapy.
During chemotherapy, you will have a higher risk of bleeding or getting an infection. If you develop a temperature over 38°C, contact your doctor or go to the emergency department.
Video: What is chemotherapy?
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
Dr David Yeo, Hepatobiliary/Transplant Surgeon, Royal Prince Alfred, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse Cancer Centre and St George Hospitals, NSW; Dr Lorraine Chantrill, Head of Department Medical Oncology, Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District, NSW; Michael Coulson, Consumer; Dr Sam Davis, Interventional Radiologist, Staff Specialist, Royal Brisbane and Women‘s Hospital, QLD; Prof Chris Karapetis, Network Clinical Director (Cancer Services), Southern Adelaide Local Health Network, Head, Department of Medical Oncology, Flinders Medical Centre and Flinders University, SA; Dr Howard Liu, Radiation Oncologist, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Lina Sharma, Consumer; Dr Graham Starkey, Hepato-Biliary and General Surgeon, Austin Hospital, VIC; Catherine Trevaskis, Gastrointestinal Cancer Specialist Nurse, Canberra Hospital and Health Services, ACT; Dr Michael Wallace, Western Australia Liver Transplant Service, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, WA.
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