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Liver cancer

After liver cancer surgery

Cancer care pathways

For an overview of what to expect during all stages of your cancer care, read or download the What To Expect guide for liver cancer (also available in Arabic, Chinese, Greek, Hindi, Italian, Tagalog and Vietnamese – see details on the site). The What To Expect guide is a short guide to what is recommended for the best cancer care across Australia, from diagnosis to treatment and beyond.

Recovering in hospital

After surgery for either primary liver cancer or secondary cancer in the liver, you will wake up in a recovery room near the operating theatre. You will then be taken back to your bed on the hospital ward. The following is a list of what to expect.

Drips and drains

Different tubes will be in place to drain post-operative fluids, urine and bile. You will also have a drip (intravenous tube) giving you fluids and nourishment, as you may not be able to eat or drink for a few days. When you are able to eat, you will be given clear fluids first, then solid foods.

Pain relief

After an operation, it is common to feel some pain, but this can be controlled. Medicine may be given through an injection close to the spine (epidural) or through a patient- controlled analgesia (PCA) system. The PCA machine allows you to self-administer a measured dose of pain relief by pressing a button.

Let your doctor or nurse know if you are in pain so they can adjust the medicine or dose. Do not wait until the pain is severe. Everyone’s pain tolerance is different and medicine will be used to make you as comfortable as possible. Managing your pain will help you to recover and move around more quickly.

Length of hospital stay

You will spend 5–10 days in hospital after a partial hepatectomy, and up to three weeks in hospital following a transplant. If you have a laparoscopy, the recovery time is shorter – you may be able to return to your usual activities within a week. Drips and drains are removed before you leave hospital.

Recovering at home

Most people who have surgery for cancer in the liver will feel better within six weeks, but recovery may take longer for some people. The following tips may help during your recovery.


A physiotherapist can help with your recovery by giving you exercises to improve your breathing, strength and ability to walk (mobility).


Your medical team will tell you how long you should avoid driving, which will usually be a few weeks.


Talk to your doctor about starting to exercise. Begin with gentle exercise such as walking and build up to more vigorous exercise, depending on how active you were before the surgery. Call Cancer Council 13 11 20 for a copy of Exercise for People Living with Cancer.


After you return home, you will need frequent check-ups to monitor your health and the success of the surgery. Your doctor will tell you how often you should have check-ups.

Wound care

If you have an incision, follow your health care team’s instructions about cleaning the wound. Contact your doctor if it becomes red, hot or inflamed.


Avoid alcohol for at least a month and only drink alcohol in moderation after this time. If you have cirrhosis or a transplant, you must stop drinking alcohol. Your medical team will talk to you about this.


Eat high-protein and high-energy foods to maintain your weight. Call Cancer Council 13 11 20 for a copy of Nutrition and Cancer and to find out more about these foods.


You will probably feel quite tired and weak after the operation, but this should improve within a few weeks.

Expert content reviewers:

Graham Starkey, Liver Surgeon, Austin Hospital, VIC; Dr Ken Chan, Interventional Radiologist, Dr Jones & Partners Medical Imaging and Royal Adelaide Hospital, SA; David Fry, Consumer; Caitriona Nienaber, Oncology Nurse, Council Council WA, WA; A/Prof Monica Robotin, University of Sydney and Medical Director, Cancer Council NSW, NSW; and Dr Manfred Spanger, Interventional Radiologist, Eastern Health, Knox Private Hospital and Epworth Eastern, VIC.

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