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Chemotherapy involves using drugs to kill cancer cells. The drugs are usually injected into a vein where they enter the bloodstream and are carried throughout the body. Unfortunately, most chemotherapy drugs, used alone or in combinations, are not effective against liver cancer. Even the drugs that have shown some effectiveness are able to shrink fewer than 1 in 5 tumors, and the effect does not last long.

Because of these poor results, doctors sometimes inject the chemotherapy drugs directly into the hepatic artery. This technique, called hepatic artery infusion (HAI), allows the chemotherapy drug to reach the entire liver. The healthy liver tissue breaks down most of the drug before it can reach the rest of the body. As a result, this technique has fewer side effects than standard chemotherapy. But it may not be useful in all patients because the technique requires a surgical procedure to insert the chemotherapy into the hepatic artery. Many people with liver cancer may not be able to tolerate this type of surgery.

Side Effects of Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy drugs kill cells that are dividing quickly, such as cancer cells. But other healthy cells that divide quickly, such as in the bone marrow, the lining of the mouth and intestines, and the hair follicles, are also affected by chemotherapy. This is why chemotherapy can lead to side effects, such as hair loss, mouth sores, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, and diarrhea. Chemotherapy also increases the risk of infections because of low white blood cell counts, easy bruising or bleeding because of low blood platelet counts, and fatigue because of low red blood cell counts.

These side effects usually go away after treatment is finished. Tell your health care team about any side effects you are having, because they may be able to give you medicines to reduce some side effects. Sometimes, the health care team will change the chemotherapy doses or they may delay or stop the treatment to prevent the side effects from getting worse.