As one of the largest organs in the body, the liver is a mainstay in performing many crucial functions. Liver cancer is a serious issue, but just how dangerous of a threat ultimately depends on the type and history of each tumor. Broadly speaking, there are two umbrella categories for defining liver cancer: those that originated in the liver, and those that have spread from other parts of the body, such as the colon and rectum. Regardless of whether the liver tumor is primary or whether cancer cells metastasized from elsewhere, surgery on the liver is a form of treatment that has proven effective in a wide range of cases.
Types of Surgery for Liver Cancer
Surgical resection of the liver is one of the most commonly performed procedures for dealing with cancer. This technique is a relatively simple one in which tumor cells, along with a small portion of surrounding healthy cells, are completely removed. The size of the portion of liver removed varies according to the size of the tumor itself—it may be a small fragment, an entire lobe, or perhaps even more than that. Practically speaking, however, surgical resection is not recommended once a tumor has spread to infect most of the liver. This procedure is limited to localized liver tumors, and patients with other complications such as cirrhosis of the liver are not candidates for surgical resection.
When most of liver is too far gone for surgical resection, some patients may opt for complete liver transplants. Such procedures are less common, because going forward with a liver transplant requires that the tumor be completely confined to the liver and that a willing donor can be found.
Radiofrequency ablation is a newer, less traditional technique used to destroy relatively small liver tumors. Probes, often guided by ultrasound or CT scans, are inserted through small incisions in the skin or abdomen. Once the tumor is located, the surgeon sends electric currents through needles and the high heat successfully destroys a very specific target area. Though radiofrequency ablation’s usefulness is limited to smaller tumors, the technique can be combined with surgical resection to attack liver cancer from multiple angles.
Cryosurgery stands in contrast to the high-heat currents of radiofrequency ablation. Using this method, surgeons inject liquid nitrogen into select areas of the liver and destroy tumors by freezing cells. Cryosurgery can work on larger tumors that may not be resectable, but it also has a higher risk of doing damage to surrounding structures such as blood vessels and ducts.
Considering the Costs of Liver Cancer Surgery
When your surgeon presents you with a list of options for the surgical treatment of liver cancer, one of the first things to flash through your mind may be the cost of each treatment; however, what you might want to consider is not cost but cost-effectiveness.
What does this mean? Remember that your battle with cancer is not over once you leave the operating room. Although the surgical procedure that you choose is an important component of your treatment, it is not the only. A combination of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and drugs are required in most cases, and the balance—and cost—of these depends on your primary surgery of choice. Also don’t neglect to take complications into account. Certain surgeries have higher rates of complications, or higher rates of cancer recurrence afterwards. Balance all these factors before you make a final decision about what type of surgical treatment to pick.