For some people with liver and bile duct cancer, treatment can remove the cancer. But many liver and bile duct cancer survivors need continuing treatment to manage symptoms and stop the cancer from spreading.
Whether you were treated successfully or you’re still receiving therapies to treat active cancer, Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center offers ongoing follow-up care – called survivorship care – to give you the highest quality of life possible.
Cancer affects all aspects of your life – body, mind, and spirit. Our survivorship services support the whole person. You may need care to relieve treatment side effects, counseling to help you cope with health changes and decisions, or assistance taking care of practicalities like insurance or coordinating health appointments. You can count on the compassionate, experienced team at Sylvester to help you and your family every step of the way.
What to expect as a liver and bile duct cancer survivor
Living with conditions such as bile duct cancer, gallbladder cancer, hepatocellular cancer (HCC), intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma, or another type of liver cancer can cause stress and uncertainty. We understand. But it helps to know you have an expert team that’s here to help. Your survivorship visits let us keep a close eye on your health to manage any side effects, help you feel your best, and check for cancer spread or recurrence. These appointments allow you to ask questions, share your concerns, or get one-on-one assistance from a rehabilitation specialist, medical social worker, or mental health counselor.
As part of your follow-up care, you receive a survivorship care plan based on input from your cancer care team. This document gives you and your healthcare providers information about your cancer treatments. In addition, it provides follow-up visits and testing guidelines to ensure you get the attention you need to feel your best. We also offer information about local and national organizations that support bile duct and liver cancer survivors and families.
Follow-up visit schedule
There’s no set follow-up schedule for bile duct cancer survivors – we base it on your individual needs. But, typically, you can expect to have follow-up visits with blood or imaging tests about every six months for the first few years after treatment and once a year after that.
Liver cancer survivors who've had surgery, a liver transplant, embolization, or ablation and have no signs of cancer can expect to have follow-up visits with imaging and blood tests every three to six months the first two years and every six to 12 months after that.
If you had a liver transplant as part of your bile duct cancer or liver cancer treatment, you’re watched closely after surgery to make sure your body is accepting the new liver well. You can expect to take medicines, such as antibiotics and immunosuppressants, as your body adjusts to your new liver.
What are liver cancer and bile duct cancer treatment side effects?
We make sure you’re aware of possible treatment side effects. Your team is here to keep you as comfortable as possible – whether the side effects happen right away or they develop later. You have access to comprehensive support services to let you feel your best – from pain management approaches like acupuncture and massage therapy to guidance on nutrition and exercise. You can count on personal attention and ongoing support to help you feel better.
Liver cancer, bile duct cancer, and gallbladder cancer treatment side effects vary, depending on the extent of your cancer and its treatment. However, Sylvester survivorship support services are here to keep you as comfortable as possible.
Managing liver cancer treatment side effects
These are some of the common side effects from liver cancer therapies, many of which are temporary and go away after treatment ends:
- Ablation therapy may cause stomach pain, fever, or liver infections.
- Embolization may cause stomach pain, nausea, fever, liver infections, or blood clots in liver blood vessels.
- Chemotherapy side effects will depend on the medicine, but it may cause nausea and digestive problems, hair loss, mouth sores, and tiredness. Chemoembolization and hepatic arterial infusion usually cause fewer side effects than traditional chemotherapy because the medicines don't go through your entire body.
- Radiation therapy may cause nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, tiredness, skin irritation, and loss of appetite.
- Targeted therapies such as kinase inhibitors and monoclonal antibodies may have side effects such as tiredness, headaches, diarrhea, appetite loss, and mouth sores.
Liver surgery has the same risks as any major surgery, such as bleeding, infection, or anesthesia-related problems. If you've had part of your liver removed (partial hepatectomy), there's a risk of new liver cancer since the entire liver wasn't removed.
If you had a liver transplant, there’s a risk your body will reject the new organ. But the medicines you take to stop your body from rejecting the new liver – called immunosuppressants – lower your immune system’s ability to fight infection. Also, if cancer spread outside your liver, your immune system will be less able to slow the cancer’s growth. Immunosuppressants can also cause other diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes, and kidney problems. So we keep a close eye on you to make sure you stay as healthy as possible.
Managing bile duct cancer treatment side effects
These are some of the common side effects from bile duct cancer therapies, many of which go away after treatment stops:
- Chemotherapy side effects will depend on the medicine, but it may cause nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, mouth sores, nerve damage, and tiredness.
- Radiation therapy may cause nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, tiredness, skin irritation, hair loss, and liver damage.
- Targeted therapies like FGFR2 inhibitors may cause kidney problems, hair loss, nausea, digestive problems, mouth sores, eye problems, and stomach pain.
Bile duct surgery often removes parts of other organs involved in digestion, so it typically causes nutrition- and eating-related side effects. Your care team will talk to you about your options and develop a plan to give you the highest quality of life possible.
Managing gallbladder cancer treatment side effects
These are some of the common side effects from gallbladder cancer therapies, many of which go away after treatment stops:
- Chemotherapy side effects will depend on the medicine, but it may cause nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, mouth sores, increased bleeding or bruising, and tiredness.
- Radiation therapy may cause skin irritation, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, tiredness, and liver damage.
When there’s a good possibility of curing gallbladder cancer with surgery, surgeons typically remove the gallbladder, part of the liver, and all the lymph nodes in the area – called extended or radical cholecystectomy – to prevent the cancer from returning. But this surgery often causes nutrition- and eating-related side effects. Our goal is to help you feel your best and help you manage side effects.
How liver cancer and bile duct cancer survivors can lower their cancer risk
Smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol can increase your risk of liver cancer, so you should consider stopping both. If you need help, we can offer assistance.
Some healthy habits can improve your health overall and may lower your cancer risk, including getting regular exercise, staying at a healthy weight, and eating a nutritious diet. Choose a diet with plenty of whole grains, vegetables, fruit, and lean meats – and avoid red meats, processed foods, or foods high in salt, sugar, and fat.
Palliative care and support groups for liver and bile duct cancer survivors
Palliative care focuses on reducing pain and helping you feel better throughout cancer treatment and survivorship. Everyone’s experience is different, so we give you personal attention and guidance to feel your best.
Cancer support groups are an essential part of comprehensive cancer support services. They let you hear from others who understand what you’re going through. They also allow you to share your concerns and feelings and provide personal support and encouragement.
You and your family can also get assistance from our social workers, mental health specialists, and chaplains – including services just for caregivers. You can depend on Sylvester to provide personal attention and guidance every step of the way.
How can I learn more about long-term follow-up care for cancer survivors?
Follow-up care is essential to keeping you healthy and ensuring you have the highest quality of life possible. To learn more about our survivorship care program and personalized services for liver cancer and bile duct cancer survivors, email us at SCCCSURVIVORSHIP@miami.edu.