Surgery for secondary liver cancer
A small number of people with secondary liver cancer may be able to have surgery to remove the cancer (also known as liver resection or partial hepatectomy). A liver resection is only an option for people with some types of secondary cancer and when there will be enough healthy liver for it to regrow. Surgery is also only possible when the cancer hasn’t spread to other parts of the body where it can’t be removed, such as the bones.
What happens during surgery?
A liver resection is a major operation. You will have a general anaesthetic and the surgeon will remove the cancer as well as some healthy tissue around it. The operation may be done as open surgery (with one large cut in the abdomen) or as keyhole or laparoscopic surgery (with several smaller cuts).
When a large amount of the liver needs to be removed, you may have a procedure called portal vein embolisation (PVE) 4–8 weeks before the surgery. This procedure redirects the blood supply to the healthy part of the liver, helping it to grow.
People with tumours in both lobes of the liver sometimes need two separate operations with a waiting period between each operation.
After the surgery
You will spend 5–10 days in hospital. You will be monitored for signs of infection or bleeding. Some people develop jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes), but this is usually temporary and improves as the liver grows back. The liver will usually regrow to its normal size within a few months.
For more on this, see our general section on Surgery.
Podcast: Making Treatment Decisions
Prof Desmond Yip, Clinical Director, Department of Medical Oncology, The Canberra Hospital, ACT; A/Prof Siddhartha Baxi, Radiation Oncologist and Medical Director, GenesisCare, Gold Coast, QLD; Prof Katherine Clark, Clinical Director of Palliative Care, NSLHD Supportive and Palliative Care Network, Northern Sydney Cancer Centre, Royal North Shore Hospital, NSW; Anne Dowling, Hepatoma Clinical Nurse Consultant and Liver Transplant Coordinator, Austin Health, VIC; A/Prof Koroush Haghighi, Liver, Pancreas and Upper Gastrointestinal Surgeon, Prince of Wales and St Vincent’s Hospitals, NSW; Karen Hall, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Dr Brett Knowles, Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary and General Surgeon, Royal Melbourne Hospital, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and St Vincent’s Hospital, VIC; Lina Sharma, Consumer; A/Prof Simone Strasser, Hepatologist, AW Morrow Gastroenterology and Liver Centre, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and The University of Sydney, NSW; David Thomas, Consumer.
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