What is radioembolization for liver cancer?

Radioembolization is a minimally invasive liver cancer treatment that involves delivering radioactive particles directly to the abnormal tumor. As the particles lodge within the tumor, they emit radiation that can eliminate cancer cells.

The goal of radioembolization is typically to extend patients' lives and improve their quality of life.

Who is a candidate for radioembolization

Patients who have liver cancer that has not extensively spread in the liver or those who are not candidates for other liver cancer treatments such as surgery or liver transplantation may be candidates for radioembolization.

Patients who have severe liver disease or patients who do not have adequate blood flow from the lungs to the liver are not candidates for radioembolization.

Benefits of radioembolization

Radioembolization has many advantages over other liver cancer treatments such as surgery or liver transplant. Advantages include:

  • Radioembolization can improve quality of life and extend the lives of liver cancer patients who have inoperable tumors.
  • Side effects associated with radioembolization for liver cancer are typically less severe than the side effects with other liver cancer treatments.
  • No surgical incision is necessary.
  • A higher dose of radiation can be delivered to the tumor than can be given during radioembolization with external beam therapy.
  • In some cases, radioembolization will shrink the tumor enough for surgery or liver transplant to become an option.

Risks of a radioembolization

Risks associated with radioembolization are typically less severe than with other liver cancer treatment options such as liver treatment or surgery. Risks may include:

  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Abdominal pain
  • Infection at the penetration site
  • Allergic reaction to contrast material
  • Damage to the blood vessel from catheter placement
  • Liver or gallbladder damage
  • Ulcer in stomach or duodenum due to radioactive material lodging in the wrong place

What to expect during a radioembolization

A radioembolization is typically performed on an outpatient basis by an experienced interventional radiologist. The procedure takes approximately one hour, during which tiny glass or resin beads filled with radioactive particles are injected inside blood vessels that feed a liver tumor. This process will block the flow of blood to the liver tumor and deliver radiation directly into the tumor. Healthy, normal tissue is spared using radioembolization.

Recovery from radioembolization

Many patients will go home the day of a radioembolization procedure. You will need to plan for someone to drive you home. In some cases, you will need to spend one to two nights in the hospital after a radioembolization for monitoring.

You may experience fever, fatigue and general lethargy for as long as a week after the procedure. Most side effects will go away within five days after the procedure. If any side effects persist longer than ten days to two weeks, call your doctor.

Although you can resume your day-to-day routine within a couple days after the procedure, it is important to limit your contact with other people to minimize radiation exposure to other people. During the week following the procedure, do not sleep in the same bed as someone else, come into contact with infants, children and pregnant women, and do not attend any event where you will be in close contact with others.

Every three months following your radioembolization, your doctor will order a CT scan or MRI to evaluate the size of your tumor.

Find an interventional radiologist nearby

Mercy Health locations that can treat you