Radiation Therapy (Radiotherapy) for Liver Cancer


Liver cancer is the result of the rapid creation of abnormal cells in the liver that grow beyond their usual boundaries.  Some people may take advantages from low doses of radiotherapy to treat liver cancer and relieve pressure that causes pain.

What is radiotherapy?

Radiation therapy uses targeted energy (e.g., X-rays, radioactive substances) to eliminate cancer cells, shrink tumors, and/or reduce certain cancer-related symptoms. It may be used:

  • As a primary treatment to destroy cancer cells;
  • In combination with other treatments to reduce the development of cancer cells;
  • Before another treatment to shrink a tumor;
  • After another treatment to stop the development of any remaining cancer cells;
  • To relieve symptoms of cancer.

Radiotherapy can be classified into 3 types:

  • External beam radiation therapy. Radiation is pointed from a machine outside the body onto cancerous cells within the body (e.g., 3D conformal radiation therapy, IMRT, IGRT, TomoTherapy, stereotactic radiosurgery).
  • Internal radiation therapy. Radioactive material is placed (via a catheter or other carrier) directly into or near a tumor (e.g., high-dose rate brachytherapy).
  • Systemic radiation therapy. A radioactive substance (that is swallowed or injected) travels through the blood to locate and destroy cancerous cells (e.g., radioactive iodine therapy).

Where and when should you receive treatment?

External radiotherapy treatment is conducted in the hospital. For primary liver cancer, you are likely to have a small number of treatments. You may have one treatment a day for a few days or one treatment a week for a few weeks.

What to plan for your treatment

Before treatment, it is advisable that you plan carefully your external beam radiotherapy. Your appointment may last from 15 minutes up to a couple of hours. It is also important to decide how much radiation enough to treat cancer and exactly where you need it.

You will go through CT scan to have cancer and its structures monitored. You lie on the scanner couch with the treatment area exposed. The radiographers will put some markers on your skin. You need to lie very still. Once you are in position, the radiographers move the couch up and through the doughnut-shaped scanner. The radiographers go out of the room and the scan starts. It lasts up to 5 minutes with no pain and with close observation of radiographers via camera.

You may also be required to take other scans such as MRI scans or PET scans after CT scan.

Ink marks

Before your radiotherapy, radiographers may put marks on your skin to make sure they treat exactly the same area every day. They may also make pin-point-sized tattoo marks in these areas.

You may have to wait a couple of weeks before beginning your treatment for the doctors need time to finalize your treatment journey in details.

Having radiotherapy

Radiotherapy machines are huge so it might be fixed in one position or able to rotate around your body to give treatment to different positions. Before your first treatment, radiographers will explain what you will see and hear.

You couldn’t be radioactive with your external radiotherapy treatment. It is completely safe with other people, including children, throughout your course of treatment.

The radiotherapy lasts from 15 to 30 minutes. You can’t feel anything strange when you actually have the treatment. It is essential to lie in the same position all time. Once you are in the exact position, the staff will go out and leave you alone in the room. They monitor you carefully on a closed circuit television screen.

Side effects

Radiotherapy with a low dose to help control symptoms won’t cause many side effects. The liver is next to the stomach and bowel, so radiotherapy to the liver can result in sickness or diarrhea. There are medicines that help decline these side effects.

Also, radiotherapy often provokes tiredness. This usually raises towards the end of a course of treatment. You may feel more tired continuously for a few days or weeks after treatment.

The radiation therapy that could be done in liver cancer patients includes external beam radiation therapy, internal radiation therapy, systemic radiation therapy. Each type of radiation has their pros and cons. Consult your doctor for more detailed information.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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