Liver surgery, otherwise known as a hepatectomy or a liver resection, is a procedure that a surgeon performs to remove a section of the liver. Surgeons can perform liver resection through traditional surgery or laparoscopy, or with robotic assistance.

When Is Liver Surgery Needed?

You may need liver surgery for a few different reasons. The most common reasons for the procedure are liver disease and liver cancer. If you have been advised by your doctor to have a liver resection, there is a diseased portion of the liver that needs to be removed to prevent infected or malignant growth.

Treatment for Liver Cancer

According to the American Cancer Society, if liver cancer is early stage, the only treatment necessary may be liver surgery. There is a greater chance of the surgery curing cancer if you are in overall good health and the cancer has not metastasized. Beyond surgery, other treatment methods include ablation and embolization to target tumors or chemotherapy and radiation for the whole body.

What Are the Types of Liver Surgery?

There are three main kinds of liver surgery.

1. Open

Open surgery is the traditional method, where a surgeon creates a large incision to expose the liver and operate on it. An open procedure takes longer to complete and longer to recover from. However, this may be the only option for some people if the resection is taking a significant portion of the liver.

2. Laparoscopic

Laparoscopic liver surgery is a minimally invasive option in which the surgeon will create a very small incision and thread a thin tube with a camera attached through the keyhole to be able to view the liver. They can then operate through that small incision or another with laparoscopic tools.

3. Robotic

Robotic surgery is similar to laparoscopic in the incision size, but the doctor’s hands will not be operating in the cavity at all. Instead, the surgeon will have a high-resolution image of the liver on a screen and will control robotic surgical arms from the station. The precision and flexibility of the arm allow more control and eliminate some of the risks associated with human error.

Any of these options may be available, depending on your situation and the hospital or clinic. Laparoscopic and robotic methods are gaining increasing popularity for their quicker operation and recovery time.

What Should You Expect From Liver Surgery?

Knowing what to expect from the surgery is important to ease your mind and help you plan accordingly. The following are some common FAQs about liver surgery.

How long does liver surgery take?

Liver surgery may take anywhere from two to six hours, depending on the size of the area that needs to be resectioned.

How long do you stay in the hospital after surgery?

If there were complications during the surgery, you may need to spend a few nights in the ICU being monitored and treated for any residual issues. If all went well, you will continue to recover in the hospital for about a week. Your care team will instruct you on how to change your incision dressings and prepare you for the rest of your recovery journey, which will take place at home. You will typically follow up with the surgeon two weeks after you were discharged.

How much does liver surgery cost?

The cost of liver surgery can range greatly depending on your location, health, and method of surgery. Liver resection may cost anywhere from $6,000-$60,000, but it averages to around $28,000 before insurance adjustments. It is important that you speak with your healthcare provider and insurance company to have a full understanding of the costs before the operation.

Understanding the Potential Risks and Benefits

As a patient, it is natural to wonder if liver surgery is safe. Liver resection does have potential complications, including excessive bleeding, blood clots, and damage to the liver. Your doctor will cover the major risks involved, especially if you have other health conditions that may complicate your case. It is a major surgery, so it is not something to be taken lightly; however, while there are risks, liver resection can be completed without any complications and help you lead a long, happy life.

The level of risk associated with liver surgery depends on how large of a section the surgeon will have to remove. Like most surgeries, longer and more detailed procedures carry a higher chance of risk. If you only need a small section removed, you may be able to have your surgery performed laparoscopically or robotically. Laparoscopic and robotic procedures are considered minimally invasive and do not carry the same dangers as traditional surgery. As the incision site is much smaller, there is less chance for complications and usually a quicker recovery time afterward.

Understanding the Recovery Process

Some possible side effects during the recovery process are nausea, diarrhea, headaches, and gas. These symptoms should start to ease after the first two weeks of at-home recovery.

Recovery time varies from patient to patient and depends on the intensity of the surgery; however, full recovery from liver resection is certainly possible and common. It usually takes up to eight weeks before you will be feeling back to normal. If the remaining portion of your liver is healthy and large enough, it can even grow back to full size. Doctors recommend eating high-protein meals and doing gentle exercise to help accelerate your progress. Following all of the recovery instructions given by the surgeon and your care team is your best chance at making a full recovery and getting back to normal life.

Learn More About Your Options for Liver Surgery

It is important to choose an experienced surgeon that you trust to complete your liver surgery. Having a portion of your liver resectioned is a serious procedure, and the right care team can make a huge difference in your operation and recovery. Laparoscopic surgery has made it possible to shorten recovery time and reduce complications that are associated with open surgery. If you feel that laparoscopic liver surgery is right for you, contact us to schedule a consultation.