What is chemoembolization for liver cancer?

Chemoembolization is a minimally invasive liver cancer treatment that works by cutting off the blood supply feeding the cancerous tumor and trapping chemotherapy treatment within. During a chemoembolization procedure, chemotherapy and other synthetic agents are injected into the blood vessel that feeds the liver cancer tumor to kill cancer cells and minimize damage to healthy tissue.

Chemoembolization can be used in combination with chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery or radiofrequency ablation. It can be used as a stand-alone treatment option.

Who is a candidate for chemoembolization

Patients who have liver cancer that is mostly limited to the liver are the most appropriate candidates for chemoembolization.

Benefits of chemoembolization

Chemoembolization can have advantages over other liver cancer treatments, including:

  • Shrink liver tumors or stop their growth
  • Limit exposure of chemotherapy drugs to the entire body
  • Preserve liver function and improve quality of life
  • Allows for targeted chemotherapy medications directly to the cancerous tumor

Risks of a chemoembolization

Risks of a chemoembolization may include:

  • Nausea
  • Hair loss
  • Decrease in white blood cells
  • Pain
  • Fever
  • Infection at incision site
  • Gallbladder inflammation
  • Blood clots that clog the blood vessels to the liver
  • Allergic reaction to contrast material

What to expect during a chemoembolization

A Mercy Health interventional radiologist will perform a chemoembolization. During the procedure, the doctor will insert a catheter into an artery in the groin or wrist. Once in position, he or she will guide a catheter directly into the liver tumor. The chemotherapy drugs and embolic agents (other synthetic material) are injected through the catheter directly into blood vessel feeding the tumor. This process will block the flow of blood to the tumor and trap the chemotherapy medication inside to kill the cancerous cells.

Recovery from chemoembolization

Many patients will experience side effects such as pain, nausea, vomiting and fever after the chemoembolization procedure.

Most patients can be discharged from the hospital when their pain and nausea have improved — typically within two days after the procedure. It is normal to experience a fever, fatigue or loss of appetite for a few weeks after the procedure. If your side effects worsen, contact your physician right away.

You should be able to resume your normal routine within a week. It will be important to follow up with your physician as you recover. You will need imaging tests such as a CT scan, MRI or blood tests to determine if the treatment was effective. You may need additional chemoembolization within a couple months of the first procedure if you have tumors on both sides of your liver.

Chemoembolization can be performed as many times as necessary to treat the tumor.

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