Medical Approaches for Liver Cancer

Can Drugs Treat Liver Cancer?

Using medicines, drugs or other substances to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing is an important part of liver cancer treatment. We offer a number of medical approaches for liver cancer:

  • Targeted therapy. No two cancer patients are exactly alike and the same is true for cancers. Each tumor is genetically unique, and these differences can mean that one patient responds to a treatment and another does not. Targeted therapies identify and attack cancer cells by homing in on specific genetic abnormalities of the cells. Some targeted therapies attack the cancer cells directly; others inhibit the tumor’s ability to form new blood vessels to feed it. A commonly used targeted therapy for liver cancer is sorafenib.
  • Immunotherapy. These newest drugs fight liver cancer by stimulating the body’s own immune system to recognize and attack cancer cells. Normally, your immune system is able to tell the difference between healthy body cells and those that are “foreign” and need to be attacked and uses checkpoints or molecule-switches on immune cells that to activate or inactivate an immune response. Cancer cells are tricky and can hijack the checkpoints to evade detection by the immune system. Drugs that target these checkpoints are a new class of immunotherapy for cancer care. Two checkpoint-inhibiting drugs currently used for liver cancer include the anti-PD-1 therapies, nivolumab (Opdivo) and pembrolizumab (Keytruda).
  • Chemotherapy. Traditional chemotherapy uses drugs to identify cancer cells by their rapid rate of reproduction. However, due to the unique features of primary liver cancer and the liver itself, existing chemotherapy regimens have not been very effective against liver cancer. New approaches that combine chemotherapy with other treatments such as targeted therapy or embolization are offered in clinical trials.
  • Transarterial chemoembolization (TACE) is a form of regional chemotherapy in which the anticancer drugs are delivered directly through the hepatic artery leading to the liver. Small particles or spheres designed to block blood vessels are mixed with the drugs to close off the artery, trapping the drugs near the tumor. Blood flow (including oxygen and nutrients) to the tumor is blocked, but the rest of the liver continues to receive blood via the hepatic portal vein.

Learn more about clinical trials involving liver cancer.