Systemic Treatment of Liver Cancer

A cancer treatment that affects the whole body is called systemic therapy. Traditional chemotherapy is still the most common type of systemic therapy, but now there are other cancer treatments like targeted therapy and immunotherapy. Each works differently to shrink the tumor and prevent recurrence. Systemic treatments may be used alone or together.

Systemic therapies that might be used include:

  • Chemotherapy – attacks rapidly dividing cells in the body
  • Targeted therapy – focuses on specific or unique feature of cancer cells
  • Immunotherapy – uses your body’s natural defenses to find and destroy cancer cells


Chemotherapy is a type of drug therapy that kills fast-growing cells throughout the body, including cancer cells and normal cells. All chemotherapy drugs affect the information inside genes called DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). Genes tell cancer cells how and when to grow and divide. Chemotherapy disrupts the life cycle of cancer cells.

Targeted therapy

Targeted therapy is a form of systemic therapy that works throughout your body. It is drug therapy that focuses on specific or unique features of cancer cells.

Targeted therapies seek out how cancer cells grow, divide, and move in the body. These drugs stop the action of molecules that help cancer cells grow and/or survive. A tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI) is a type of targeted therapy that blocks the signals that cause liver cancer to grow and spread.

The following are some targeted therapies that might be used to treat liver cancer:

  • Sorafenib
  • Lenvatinib
  • Atezolizumab
  • Bevacizumab

Targeted therapies may be used to treat other tumors that have certain gene mutations such as NTRK gene fusion.


Immunotherapy is a type of systemic treatment that increases the activity of your immune system. By doing so, it improves your body’s ability to find and destroy cancer cells. Immunotherapy can be given alone or with other types of treatment. Pembrolizumab, ipilimumab, and nivolumab are types of immunotherapy.

An immune checkpoint inhibitor is a type of immunotherapy that blocks proteins called checkpoints that are made by some types of immune system cells and some cancer cells. Sometimes, immune checkpoint inhiitors are used to treat liver cancer.