Discharge Instructions for Cancer of the Liver

You have been diagnosed with liver cancer, the abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells in the liver leading to the formation of a tumor or mass. Treatment for liver cancer may include surgery or systemic therapy or ablation/destruction of the tumor through a probe in the skin, or through a blood vessel. Or, you may have had some combination. Very few people get intravenous chemotherapy for hepatocellular carcinoma, or even cholangiocarcinoma. You discussed your treatment plan with your doctor in detail. This sheet helps you remember how to care for yourself after surgery or systemic or local therapy.

Home care after surgery or percutaneous ablative therapy

Here’s what to do at home following surgery for liver cancer.


  • Increase your activity gradually. Take short walks on a level surface.

  • Don’t overexert yourself to the point of fatigue. If you become tired, rest.

  • Shower as needed. Ask a friend or family member to stand close by in case you need help.

  • Limit stair climbing to once or twice a day. Climb slowly and stop to rest every few steps.

  • Don’t lift anything heavier than 5 pounds for 4–6 weeks after surgery.

  • Don’t mow the lawn or push a vacuum cleaner.

  • If you ride in the car for more than short trips, stop frequently to stretch your legs. Don’t drive until your doctor says it’s okay.

  • Ask your doctor when you can expect to return to work.

Incision care

  • Wash the incision site with soap and water and pat dry. Avoid scrubbing the incision.

  • Inspect the incision site every day for increased redness, drainage, swelling, or separation of the skin.

Other home care

  • Take your medications exactly as directed.

  • Don’t take any over-the-counter supplements or herbal medications unless your doctor says it’s okay.

  • Check your temperature every day for 7 days after your surgery.

  • Return to your diet as tolerated. Eat a healthy well-balanced diet.

Home care after transarterial ablative therapy

Here’s what to do at home following systemic therapyfor liver cancer. 

Prevent mouth sores

Many people get mouth sores during chemotherapy. So, don’t be discouraged if you do, even if you are following all your doctor’s instructions. Do the following to help prevent mouth sores or to ease discomfort.

  • Brush your teeth with a soft-bristle toothbrush after every meal.

  • Don’t use dental floss if your platelet count is below 50,000. Your doctor or nurse will tell you if this is the case.

  • Use an oral swab or special soft toothbrush if your gums bleed during regular brushing. Tell your doctor if bleeding doesn’t stop.

  • Use any mouthwashes given to you as directed.

  • If you can’t tolerate regular methods, use salt and baking soda to clean your mouth. Mix 1 teaspoon(s) of salt and 1 teaspoon(s) of baking soda into an 8-ounce glass of warm water. Swish and spit.

  • Watch your mouth and tongue for white patches. This is a sign of fungal infection, a common side effect of chemotherapy. Be sure to tell your doctor about these patches. Medication can be prescribed to help you fight the fungal infection.

Manage other side effects

  • Try to exercise. Exercise keeps you strong and keeps your heart and lungs active. Walk as much as you can without becoming dizzy or weak. Start slowly. Build your time and intensity level gradually.

  • Don’t be surprised if your treatment causes slight burns to your skin. Some drugs used in high doses can cause this to happen. Ask for a special cream to help relieve the burn and protect your skin.

  • Let your doctor know if your throat is sore. You may have an infection that needs treatment.

  • Remember, many patients feel sick and lose their appetites during treatment. Eat small meals several times a day to keep your strength up.

    • Choose bland foods with little taste or smell if you are reacting strongly to food.

    • Be sure to cook all food thoroughly. This kills bacteria and helps you avoid infection.

    • Eat foods that are soft. They are less likely to cause stomach irritation.

  • Keep clean. During treatment your body can’t fight germs very well.

    • Take short baths or showers with warm water. Avoid very hot or cold water.

    • Use moisturizing soap. Treatment can make your skin dry.

    • Apply moisturizing lotion several times a day to help relieve dry skin.

Follow-up care

Make a follow-up appointment as directed by our staff.


When to seek medical care

Call your doctor right away if you have any of the following:

  • Fever of 100.4°F  (38.0°C) or higher, or chills

  • Any unusual bleeding

  • New or unusual lumps, bumps, or swelling

  • Signs of infection around the incision (redness, drainage, warmth, pain)

  • Incision that opens up or pulls apart

  • Trouble concentrating

  • Ongoing fatigue

  • Shortness of breath

  • Rapid, irregular heartbeat

  • Dizziness, lightheadedness

  • Constant feeling of being cold

  • Yellowing of the skin or eyes

  • Light-colored stools

  • Pain in the liver area

  • Blood in your stools

  • Vomiting blood

  • Increasing abdominal size

  • Yellow eyes

  • Mental confusion