Health Information and Tools >  Cirrhosis – Radiation therapy for liver cancer
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Radiation therapy uses high-energy beams to shrink and destroy cancer.

The type used to treat liver cancer is called stereotactic body radiation therapy or SBRT.

It delivers radiation from a machine to your body.

Most people just call this treatment radiation therapy. 

Your healthcare team may recommend radiation therapy if surgery isn't an option to remove the cancer.

It doesn't usually cure liver cancer, but it can shrink the tumour and slow its growth.

Most people have a series of 5 short treatments, given every other day.

These are usually done in a cancer treatment centre by a doctor called a radiation oncologist.

There are 2 important steps before you have your first radiation treatment. 

The first step is injecting tiny, metal objects called markers into your liver, near the tumour.

The markers help the doctor guide the radiation exactly where it needs to go.

The radiation therapy team will give you an IV [intravenous] medicine to help you relax.

They'll also freeze the skin over your liver to make the procedure more comfortable.

But you might still feel some pressure in your liver.

The doctor puts a needle into your liver to inject the markers.

You'll then have a CT [computed tomography] scan to make sure the markers are in the right place.

The markers stay in your body and won't cause any harm.

The second step is fitting you for a custom mold.

This happens about a week after the markers are injected.

The mold helps you stay still during your radiation treatments.

The team will also teach you how to breathe to keep your body still.

You'll have another CT scan and maybe an MRI [magnetic resonance imaging] scan too.

These scans map out how big the tumour is and exactly where it is.

This helps the team decide how much radiation you'll need.

About 2 or 3 weeks later, you'll have your first radiation treatment.

You'll lie in your custom mold and you might wear a compression belt too.

A compression belt helps prevent your chest and belly area from moving too much when you breathe.

The radiation machine will move around your body to deliver radiation to the tumor from different angles.

Lying in the mold may be a bit uncomfortable, but the treatment itself is painless and takes about 45 minutes.

When you go home, you'll most likely be able to do your normal activities.

You may have no symptoms or you might feel tired, sick to your stomach or have sensitive skin that feels like a mild sunburn.

Call your doctor or nurse if you have any questions about your symptoms.

You'll have a follow-up MRI [magnetic resonance imaging] or CT scan about 2 to 3 months after you're done the treatments.

This is to see how well the radiation worked.

Your healthcare team will then let you know if you need more treatments.

If you don't, they'll let you know when you need more tests to check how you're doing.

Keep paying attention to how you feel.

Radiation therapy can lower your blood cell counts.

And in rare cases, it can cause more damage to your liver.

Let your healthcare team know if you develop any new symptoms.

We understand that you may have many thoughts and feelings after being diagnosed with liver cancer.

Remember, your healthcare team is here to support you.

Reach out to them if you have any questions.

To learn more, please visit cirrhosiscare.ca or MyHealth.Alberta.ca.​