Immunotherapy for liver cancer

Last medical review:

Some people with liver cancer have immunotherapy. Immunotherapy helps to strengthen or restore the immune system’s ability to fight cancer. Immunotherapy is sometimes called biological therapy.

You may have immunotherapy to:

  • shrink advanced or metastatic liver cancer tumours
  • control symptoms of liver cancer

Your healthcare team will consider your personal needs to plan the drugs, doses and schedules of immunotherapy. You may also receive other treatments.

Immunotherapy drugs used for liver cancer

The immunotherapy drug sometimes used for liver cancer is pembrolizumab (Keytruda). You may be offered pembrolizumab if you have already had treatment with a targeted therapy drug called sorafenib (Nexavar) or are unable to take sorafenib. Pembrolizumab may not be covered by all provincial health plans.

You may also be offered atezolizumab (Tecentriq) along with bevacizumab (Avastin) if you are unable to have surgery or if you have metastatic liver cancer and have not yet had any other treatment.

Side effects

Side effects can happen with any type of treatment for liver cancer, but everyone’s experience is different. Some people have many side effects. Other people have only a few side effects.

Side effects of immunotherapy will depend mainly on the type of drug or drug combination, how it’s given and your overall health. Immunotherapy may cause these side effects:

Report side effects

Be sure to report side effects to the healthcare team. Side effects can happen any time during, immediately after or a few days or weeks after immunotherapy. Sometimes late side effects develop months or years later. Most side effects go away on their own or can be treated, but some side effects may last a long time or become permanent.

Your healthcare team is there to help. The sooner you tell them of any problems, the sooner they can suggest ways to help you deal with them.

Information about specific cancer drugs

Details on specific drugs change regularly. Find out more about sources of drug information and where to get details on specific drugs.

Questions to ask about immunotherapy

Find out more about immunotherapy. To make the decisions that are right for you, ask your healthcare team questions about immunotherapy.

Expert review and references

  • Kelly W Burak, MD, FRCPC, MSc(Epid)
  • Vincent Tam, BSc(Hon), MD, FRCPC