What is Liver Cancer?
The liver is a large organ that secrets bile into the gallbladder. Bile is used by the small intestine to aid in digesting fats. Liver cancer often causes few, if any, symptoms until it has progressed beyond the early stages. Symptoms, when they do appear, include:
- Loss of appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
- Upper abdominal pain
- Abdominal swelling
- Nausea and vomiting
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)
- White, chalky stools
Primary liver cancer most commonly develops in the setting of underlying liver disease. The specialists at Indiana University Health Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center identify patients at risk for this cancer through surveillance programs for Hepatitis C and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), which is liver inflammation caused by a buildup of fat in the liver. IU Health Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center has one of the largest surveillance programs in the region for these two diagnoses.
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|1. Liver Cancer Diagnosis|
|2. Liver Cancer Treatment|
|3. Liver Cancer Physicians|
|4. Liver Cancer Research|
Diagnosing hepatocellular carcinoma, which is a primary cancer of the liver, can be determined by:
- Radiographic studies, such as a CT or MRI scans: These images help determine the appropriate treatment option.
- Biopsy is indicated in some patients to obtain liver tissue for examination under a microscope to determine the presence of cancer.
The liver cancer team at Indiana University Health Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center is made up of a multidisciplinary team including:The liver cancer team at IU Health Simon Cancer Center is made up of a multidisciplinary team including:
- Medical oncologists
- Radiation oncologists
- Transplant surgeons
IU Health Simon Cancer Center is the only liver oncology program in the state with a dedicated effort in primary liver cancer. This program offers not only the greatest depth and breadth of treatment options, but also the largest number of clinical protocols to improve on the diagnosis, treatment, or understanding of toxicity for both primary and metastatic liver tumors.
IU Health has the strongest liver transplant program in the country with respect to outcomes, with the most robust liver directed therapy program in the region. We hold a multidisciplinary conference every week where off-campus physician partners can present patient cases, or hear how we manage certain patients. Many times, this allows our patients to receive their care closer to home.
For liver cancer, treatments include:
- Liver transplant.Replacement of the cancerous liver with a new liver from a donor. Liver transplant is considered the most effective method to treat both the cancer and the underlying liver disease from which most cancers develop. Transplant eligibility is based on the size and number of tumors. We offer one of the nation’s top programs with respect to the number of liver transplants performed for cancer.
- Surgical resection. Removal of part of the liver.
- Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy (SBRT). Special equipment is used to precisely deliver a large radiation dose to a tumor and not to normal tissue.
- Catheter-based techniques. Using a small flexible tube to deliver drugs or other materials directly to the cancerous area of the liver.
- Radio frequency ablation and microwave ablation. Using radio waves or microwaves to heat a small area of the liver, which destroys cancerous cells.
Secondary cancers to the liver originate in another site and spread to the liver through the blood stream. IU Health Simon Cancer Center is a center of excellence for treatment of secondary cancers, including:
- Metastatic colorectal cancer. Cancer that has spread from a portion of the intestines.
- Metastatic neuroendocrine tumors. Cancer that has spread from the lungs, appendix, small intestine (duodenum), rectum, pancreas and several other parts of the body. Treatments at IU Health Simon Cancer Center can successfully shrink these cancers, or palliate (lessen) symptoms associated with it.
In addition to treatment of liver cancer, we offer excellent palliative care that brings you, your family and your doctors together to decide your best care plan. Palliative care is focused on providing patients with relief from the symptoms, pain, and stress of a serious illness - whatever the diagnosis. The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family.
To contact the liver program at IU Health Simon Cancer Center, please call LeaRae J. Herron-Rice, MSM, BSN, RN, CGRN, Program Coordinator, 317.944.2625.
Our commitment to research and to advances in liver cancer distinguishes our program from other cancer centers. We perform many clinical trials, examining new technologies and new medical therapies we feel have the potential to advance clinical care. We have ongoing science and clinical research around:
- Early biomarkers (biological characteristics usually measured through a blood test) of cancer risk in patients with inflammatory liver disease.
- Tissue and serologic markers of cancer recurrence in patients after transplant and resection (removal of part of an organ).
- The impact of liver-directed therapies on post-transplant outcomes specific to particular cancers.
- The absolute impact of liver transplant on survival.
- Serologic (blood-based) biomarkers in high-risk patients.
- Serologic and tissue biomarkers that predict the stage of cancer at diagnosis.
- Serologic and tissue biomarkers that predict patient response to systemic treatment.
More information about cancer research can be found on the Indiana University School of Medicine website.
Our liver specialists participate in research that includes both local and national clinical trials. If you qualify for a trial, you may have the opportunity to receive new experimental treatments not currently in general use.