What is a chemoembolization?

Chemoembolization is a treatment for pancreatic cancer that works by cutting off the blood supply to the cancerous tumor after trapping chemotherapy agents inside the tumor.

Chemoembolization is often used in combination with surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy or radiofrequency ablation. In some cases, your doctor may recommend chemoembolization as stand-alone therapy.

Who is a candidate for chemoembolization?

Although chemoembolization will not cure your pancreatic cancer, most patients will experience improved quality of life after the procedure.If you have severe medical issues, chemoembolization is not recommended.

Risks associated with a chemoembolization

Risks associated with a chemoembolization include:

  • Infection at the incision site
  • Damage to the blood vessels
  • Kidney damage
  • Reactions to chemotherapy including nausea hair loss, reduction in white blood cells, anemia, decrease in platelets
  • Allergic reaction to contrast material

Advantages of chemoembolization

Because chemotherapy drugs are delivered directly to the tumor site, chemoembolization has fewer side effects, such as vomiting. The procedure also can maximize the effectiveness of the medications so more cancerous tissue is destroyed.

What to expect during chemoembolization?

During a chemoembolization, your doctor will insert a catheter into the pancreas. Chemotherapy medications and a blood vessel occluding agents are fed into the blood vessel feeding the tumor. These agents in combination will deliver a concentrated drug directly to the tumor while the blood vessel becomes partially blocked due to the blood vessel occluding agent. The lack of blood supply to the tumor will starve the tumor and can slow or stop the growth of the tumor.

A chemoembolization procedure takes approximately one and a half hours. After the procedure is completed, you will be moved to a recovery room for approximately six hours.

Recovery from a chemoembolization

You may experience side effects from chemoembolization for up to five days after surgery. Your doctor will give you detailed instructions on diet, how quickly you can return to normal activity and your medication schedule.

Your doctor may order follow-up lab tests or a MRI a few weeks after surgery to monitor your recovery.

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