Tumors need blood supply, which they actively generate, to feed themselves and grow. As vascular experts, interventional radiologists are uniquely skilled in using the vascular system to deliver targeted treatments via catheter throughout the body. Chemoembolization of the liver is an effective treatment for liver cancer, delivering a large dose of chemotherapy directly to liver tumors. In treating cancer patients, interventional radiologists can attack the cancer tumor from inside the body without medicating or affecting other parts of the body by using embolization and radiofrequency heat.
Embolization is a well-established interventional radiology technique that is used to treat trauma victims with massive bleeding, to control hemorrhage after childbirth, to decrease blood loss prior to surgery and to treat tumors. In treating cancer patients, interventional radiologists use embolization to:
- Cut off the blood supply to the tumor (embolization)
- Deliver radiation to a tumor (radioembolization)
- Combine this technique with chemotherapy to deliver the cancer drug directly to the tumor (chemoembolization)
Additionally, interventional radiologists can use imaging to guide them directly to the tumor through the skin to administer radiofrequency heat to "cook" and kill the cancer cells (radiofrequency ablation) or cyroablation to freeze the tumor.
How Does Chemoembolization Work?
Chemoembolization is a minimally invasive treatment for liver cancer, provided by an interventional radiologist, that can be used when there is too much tumor to treat with radiofrequency ablation (RFA), when the tumor is in a location that cannot be treated with RFA, or in combination with RFA or other treatments.
Chemoembolization delivers a high dose of cancer-killing drug (chemotherapy) directly to the organ while depriving the tumor of its blood supply by blocking, or embolizing, the arteries feeding the tumor. Using imaging for guidance, the interventional radiologist threads a tiny catheter up the femoral artery in the groin into the blood vessels supplying the liver tumor.
The embolic agents keep the chemotherapy drug in the tumor by blocking the flow to other areas of the body. This allows for a higher dose of chemotherapy drug to be used, because less of the drug is able to circulate to the healthy cells in the body.
Chemoembolization usually involves a hospital stay of two to four days. Patients typically have lower than normal energy levels for about a month afterwards.
Chemoembolization is a palliative, not a curative, treatment. It can be extremely effective in treating primary liver cancers, especially when combined with other therapies, and has shown promising early results with some types of metastatic tumors.