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Cancer Pract. 1999 Nov-Dec;7(6):302-8.

Multidisciplinary care of hepatocellular carcinoma.

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Hematology/Oncology Service, Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center 19104, USA.



Multidisciplinary care of cancer patients in varied settings is well described in the literature, but there is little specifically describing the multidisciplinary care of the patient with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). The purpose of this article is to describe HCC and the multidisciplinary approach at the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center (PVAMC).


HCC is one of the most common solid tumors in the world, but it is rare in North America. It is associated with environmental carcinogens identified in animal studies, hepatitis B and C, cirrhosis of any etiology, and various metabolic diseases. No reliable therapy has been established for HCC. Surgical resection is the best treatment, but it is possible only in the patient with adequate hepatic reserve and limited-stage cancer. From January 1995 to May 1998, 22 patients at PVAMC received a diagnosis of primary HCC. One patient was a candidate for surgery, two patients received radiation therapy, and one patient underwent chemoembolization. Eighteen patients presented with an advanced-stage disease and comorbidities.


Therapy goals in these 18 patients were limited to supportive care and enhancement of quality of life. A multidisciplinary team provided care to this challenging patient population. The multidisciplinary team treating HCC at PVAMC consisted of physicians, nurses, pharmacists, social workers, and a chaplain. Most care occurred in the outpatient setting. Supportive therapy included the controlling of ascites and abdominal discomfort, hepatic encephalopathy, and pruritus. Opioids relieved abdominal pain. Psychiatric support and counseling helped patients and families cope with the poor prognosis.


A multidisciplinary team approach helped provide care for this challenging population. Through anecdotal reports, patients and family expressed satisfaction with their care. Research is needed to systematically test interventions designed to enhance quality of life in patients with HCC.

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