Purpose: Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the most common type of primary liver cancer, has a rapidly rising prevalence in the United States and a very poor overall rate of survival. This epidemic is driven by the cohort of aging Baby Boomers with hepatitis C viral infection and the increasing prevalence of cirrhosis as a result of nonalcoholic steatohepatitis. Because curative options are limited, the disease course creates, in patients and their families, distressing uncertainty around prognosis and treatment decisions. Older adults are disproportionately affected by HCC and have more comorbidities, adding to the complexity of the disease. This population would benefit from increased access to palliative care services, which can potentially complement the treatments throughout the disease trajectory. The purpose of this review was to use existing evidence to propose a new model of palliative care integration in patients with HCC. Thus, we focus on the HCC stage and the treatment algorithm, the ways that palliative care can offer support in this population at each stage, as well as elements that can enhance patient and family support throughout the entire disease trajectory, with an emphasis on the care of older adults with HCC. Methods: This is a narrative review in which we identify evidence-based ways that palliative care can help younger and older adults with HCC and their families, at each stage of HCC and throughout the disease trajectory. Findings: We propose ways to integrate HCC and palliative care based on the existing evidence in both fields. Palliative care offers support in symptom management, advanced care planning, and decision making in ways that are specific to each stage of HCC. We also discuss the evidence that illustrates the palliative care needs of patients with HCC that span the entire course of illness, including coping with the stigmatization of liver disease, addressing informational needs at different stages, and discussing quality of life longitudinally. Implications: Integrating palliative care into the treatment of patients with HCC has the potential to improve outcomes, although more research is needed to build this evidence base.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)512-525
Number of pages14
JournalClinical Therapeutics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2018


  • cirrhosis
  • geriatric oncology
  • hepatocellular carcinoma
  • palliative care
  • supportive oncology


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