Embolization is a safe, noninvasive treatment option for liver cancer tumors that can’t be removed surgically. You can usually go home on the same day as an embolization procedure, and side effects are minimal.
Embolization for liver cancer works by blocking the flow of blood to your liver, thus depriving the tumor of blood, oxygen, and nutrients.
The procedure is sometimes combined with other treatments, such as chemotherapy, to deliver cancer-fighting medications directly to a tumor.
This article reviews treatment goals, candidates, procedure, and effectiveness of embolization therapy for liver cancer.
Embolization is a noninvasive treatment that stops the flow of blood to your liver to help destroy liver cancer cells.
The procedure is done by injecting a substance into an artery that supplies blood to your liver. This substance can reduce or completely stop the blood supply from reaching the tumor in your liver.
This treatment works because your liver has two blood supplies. Most of your liver cells receive blood from a vein called the portal vein. A tumor growing in your liver receives blood from the hepatic artery.
This means that when blood flow through the hepatic artery is blocked, it can kill the tumor without harming your liver.
Types of embolization for liver cancer
Chemoembolization: Liver cancer treated with a combination of standard embolization and chemotherapy is called chemoembolization, or trans-arterial chemoembolization (TACE). During this procedure, chemo is given through the artery before the artery is blocked. This provides an extra boost of cancer-fighting medication directly to the tumor.
Radioembolization: Another type of embolization, radioembolization, combines embolization with radiation therapy. During this procedure, small radioactive beads called microspheres are injected into the artery. These beads implant themselves into blood vessels surrounding the tumor and give off radiation constantly for several days. Since the artery is then blocked with embolization, the radiation only affects the tumor.
Typically, embolization is used for people with liver cancer who have tumors that can’t be surgically removed. This might be because the tumors are too large or because they’re in areas that make them difficult to remove.
Sometimes, embolization is used along with ablation, a treatment that uses extreme temperatures to treat tumors. People who might be good candidates for embolization include people who:
For most people, embolization is an outpatient procedure. However, sometimes you might be asked to stay for a single night of observation if you’re having pain or nausea following your embolization.
Either way, an embolization is noninvasive and typically fairly quick. The physician will access your hepatic artery through an artery in the groin. This area will be numbed, and a catheter will be slowly and carefully inserted.
If you have many tumors or the area is quite large, you may need general anesthesia.
Using imaging, such as an X-ray and MRI, the catheter will be guided through the artery and up to the liver. Once it’s in place, substances will be injected through it. This might include chemotherapy or radioactive particles if you’re having TACE or radioembolization. The substance that blocks the artery will be inserted last. The catheter will then will be slowly withdrawn.
You’ll likely also have a slight fever and mild nausea. This is called post-embolization syndrome, and it normally lasts about a week. Let your doctor know if your symptoms are severe or if they don’t resolve after a week.
Embolization is typically considered safe and effective. It is
- It deprives the tumor of blood, oxygen, and nutrients.
- It can deliver chemotherapy and radiation directly to the tumor.
- Doses of chemotherapy or radiation can be very strong because they’re trapped at the tumor site.
- Doses of chemotherapy or radiation stay at the tumor site for an extended period.
- Doses of chemotherapy or radiation have only minimal spread to the rest of the body.
However, like all medical procedures, there are risks associated with embolization. Serious risks are uncommon, but they are possible. Side effects and complications linked to liver embolization include:
- stomach pain
- liver infection
- blood clots in the blood vessels around the liver
- damage to surrounding liver tissue
- reduced liver function
Liver embolization isn’t a cure for liver cancer. It doesn’t completely remove liver tumors. However, many people who have this treatment see a significant reduction in symptoms.
Additionally, it can add to overall excepted lifespans, especially when combined with other treatments. As with all cancer treatments, results are highly individual and based on factors such as:
- tumor size
- cancer stage
- overall health
- response to treatments
Embolization is one of several treatment options for liver cancer. For many people, treating liver cancer involves a combination of multiple treatments.
Options for treating liver cancer include:
Embolization is a treatment for liver cancer. The embolization procedure is done by inserting a catheter through an artery that feeds the liver and inserting a substance that blocks blood flow to the tumor.
Embolization is sometimes combined with other treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiation. This allows these treatments to be delivered directly to the tumor. Embolization is a noninvasive treatment that can typically be done outpatient.