Liver Cancer Care

UC San Diego Health offers comprehensive, compassionate and highly personalized care for primary liver cancer.

Highlights of Our Liver Cancer Care

  • Your care team draws on the expertise of a team of medical experts, including a medical oncologist, hepatologist (liver specialist), surgeon, interventional radiologist, radiation oncologist and diagnostic radiologist. Your doctors meet regularly to review and discuss the best treatment for you.
  • Because liver cancer often occurs in people with an underlying liver condition such as cirrhosis of the liver, your liver specialist will be a key part of your care team, monitoring and managing your liver function throughout cancer treatment. This doctor is also part of the liver transplant team and Liver Center.
  • At our clinic, you can see different medical specialists on the same day avoiding delays in treatment and better treatment planning. Our coordinated approach to care helps ensure convenient, timely access to specialty care. It can also help improve the success of your treatment.
  • More advanced treatment options, including the most promising new therapies through participation in a clinical trial. If you do not respond to standard treatments, participation in a clinical trial can provide another treatment option. In this way, we offer more treatments than most community hospitals.

Your First Appointment at the Liver Cancer Clinic

  • Your first appointment will be scheduled in the morning
  • At this appointment, you will see either a hepatologist or medical oncologist. Your doctor will discuss your medial history, and review your labs and liver imaging studies. 
  • You may have blood work or other tests to confirm your diagnosis and determine whether the cancer has spread
  • Your care team will review your health information collaboratively to develop the best treatment plan for you. This treatment plan is usually developed by the afternoon of the day of your first visit.
  • In the afternoon, depending on your care plan, you may see a surgeon, interventional radiologist or medical oncologist to discuss your treatment options.

To complete the visit as above, you will need to have imaging and lab work prior to your fist visit.

What is Primary Liver Cancer?

Primary liver cancer is cancer that starts in your liver. Hepatitis B or C, chronic heavy alcohol use and fatty liver disease are all risk factors for this cancer. 

We treat all types of adult primary liver cancer, including:

  • Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) or hepatoma, which is cancer of the main type of liver cells 
  • Intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma, cancer of the cells in the ducts of the liver

Other cancers often spread to the liver. If you have breast, lung or another cancer that has spread to the liver, your care will be led by your primary cancer disease team.

Diagnosing and Staging Liver Cancer

An accurate diagnosis is a critical first step in developing a personalized care plan. This is why we offer many techniques for diagnosing your disease and response to treatment, including:

  • Imaging – Our world-renowned liver imaging group uses MRI, CT scans and contrast enhanced ultrasound to find precancerous and small tumors that are easy to miss. Imaging studies may also be used to estimate the tumor's size and density, and blood flow in and around the tumor. Most primary liver cancers can be diagnosed and staged through imaging and bloodwork.
  • Biopsies – Our pathologists have highly specialized training in interpreting gastrointestinal tissue samples to determine the type and stage of disease. Their expertise helps us makes sure cancer is accurately diagnosed and staged.
  • Lab tests – Blood and lab tests may be used to further confirm your diagnosis and measure liver function throughout treatment. All patients get tumor marker testing to help monitor their response to treatment.
  • Genetic and molecular profiling – The genetic and molecular characteristics of your tumor may be analyzed to identify treatments that are most likely to work for your particular tumor and genetics. This information may also be used to determine if you are a candidate for a clinical trial.

Advanced Treatments for Primary Liver Cancer

Our liver cancer specialists offer many different treatment options to tailor a care plan that is right for you, including: 

  • Surgical resection – Surgery to remove liver tumors, while leaving healthy liver tissue intact. In some cases, this surgery may be performed through minimally invasive laparoscopy.
  • Liver transplantation – We are a regional referral center for these life-saving transplant surgeries
  • Transarterial chemoembolization (TACE) – Chemotherapeutics are injected directly into liver tumors.
  • Radioembolization – Tiny beads containing the radioactive isotope yttrium Y-90 are placed inside the tumor’s blood vessels. 
  • Microwave ablation – Tumor tissue is destroyed with microwaves. 
  • Stereotactic body radiotherapy (SBRT) – Concentrated doses of radiation are precisely delivered to cancer cells using 3D imaging.
  • Immunotherapy and targeted therapy – Reoccurring or metastatic cancer may be treated with systemic therapies, which travel throughout the body to kill or weaken cancer cells.

Clinical Trials

As part of a research-intensive academic medical center, our liver cancer doctors are involved with and aware of the most promising new liver cancer treatments. Your physicians can help screen you for a clinical trial or pilot research study and discuss whether an investigational therapy is a best choice for you.

Our clinical trials portfolio includes experimental immunotherapy approaches at our Precision Immunotherapy Clinic.

Whole-Person Care

Our cancer care goes beyond providing you with the best available treatment options. We offer complementary therapies and services, such as:

Our psychosocial support team can help address the emotional challenges that may accompany a cancer diagnosis and treatment, as well. Follow-up care, including a survivorship care plan, is also provided.