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Chemotherapy is a form of treatment used for cancer that involves delivering powerful cancer-killing drugs into the body, either orally or intravenously. Chemotherapy is sometimes used as treatment for liver cancer, though there are many chemotherapy drugs that this particular malignancy often resists. Cisplatin, 5-fluorouracil and doxorubicin are the chemotherapy drugs that have proven most effective in treating liver cancer, but they still only shrink a small number of liver tumors. In most cases, chemotherapy is not a cure for liver cancer.

Because traditional chemotherapy is not effective in treating liver cancer, physicians sometimes recommend a different form of chemotherapy called hepatic artery infusion (HAI). This treatment involves putting the chemotherapy drugs directly into the hepatic artery, a short blood vessel that supplies blood to the liver. This technique allows more of the chemotherapy drugs to reach the tumor and is often more effective than traditional systemic chemotherapy. However, patients often need to undergo a procedure to insert a catheter into the hepatic artery before beginning HAI, and some liver cancer patients may not be strong enough to tolerate the procedure, making them unable to receive this kind of treatment. 

Side effects of liver cancer chemotherapy

While chemotherapy drugs attack the rapidly dividing cancer cells, they also tend to affect other, healthy cells in the body that also divide quickly, such as those in the lining of the intestines and mouth, bone marrow and hair follicles. When these cells are affected by chemotherapy medication, side effects may occur. The side effects a patient experiences will depend on the type and dose of their chemotherapy, though common side effects include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Hair loss
  • Mouth sores
  • Loss of appetite

Additionally, chemotherapy drugs can also attack healthy white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets. This can lead to increased risk of infection, fatigue and easy bruising or bleeding, respectively.

If you would like to learn more about chemotherapy for liver cancer, the experienced physicians at Moffitt Cancer Center can help. With or without a referral, request an appointment by filling out a new patient registration form online or calling 1-888-663-3488.