What is an alcohol ablation for liver cancer?

An alcohol ablation, also known as an ethanol injection or ethanol ablation, is a liver cancer treatment that involves injecting concentrated alcohol directly into the tumor. The goal of alcohol ablation is to destroy cancer tissue.

Who is a candidate for alcohol ablation

You may be a candidate for an alcohol ablation if you have less than three liver cancer tumors. Each tumor should have distinct margins, be less than 3 cm in diameter, be away from the surface of the liver and must have a fibrous encapsulation.

An alcohol ablation is most effective in liver cancer patients who also have cirrhosis of the liver. If the cells surrounding the tumor have cirrhosis, they are less likely to be damaged from the concentrated alcohol injection.

You are not a candidate for an alcohol ablation if you have any signs of chronic liver failure because you would not be able to tolerate the alcohol injections.

Side effects of alcohol ablation

An alcohol ablation is a less risky procedure for treating liver cancer. The most common side effects include:

  • Pain and/or fever caused by alcohol leaking onto the surface of the liver and into the abdominal cavity
  • Bleeding, bile leakage or bile duct inflammation due to damaged blood vessels or bile ducts
  • Infection in the liver

What to expect during alcohol ablation

During an alcohol ablation, your surgeon will guide a thin needle directly into the liver tumor using imaging guidance. When in position, a concentrated alcohol solution is injected into the tumor. The alcohol will immediately dehydrate, congeal and clot abnormal tissue in the liver. You may need five or more sessions to eliminate the tumor.

In some cases, alcohol ablation is performed in conjunction with local chemotherapy that is injected into the artery which feeds the cancerous tumor.

Recovery from alcohol ablation

After an alcohol ablation, you may be sore for a day or two. You may also develop a bruise and experience dull pain in the belly or right shoulder for a few days.

Your doctor will recommend close monitoring in the months following the procedure to check how effective the treatment was.

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