A technique called transcatheter chemoembolization is used for some patients with liver cancer or other types of cancer that have spread to the liver. A catheter is inserted through a small nick in the skin of the groin and guided to the tumor. Angiography, an X-ray exam in which a dye is injected to highlight blood vessels, is performed to look at the blood vessels in the liver. Once the catheter is in place in the artery that supplies the tumor, the interventional radiologist injects a combination of chemotherapy drugs and tiny particles, as small as grains of sand.
The chemotherapy kills tumor cells, while the sponge particles embolize, or block, the artery and decrease the flow of blood to the tumor, causing it to shrink. The particles also decrease blood flow through the tumor so that chemotherapy drugs remain in contact with cancer cells for a longer period of time—in some cases as long as a month.
Because the drugs are delivered directly to the tumor, stronger doses of cancer-killing drugs can be used compared to the doses used with standard chemotherapy, which is injected through a vein in the arm. The technique also may reduce some of the side effects of standard chemotherapy because the drugs are trapped in the liver instead of circulating throughout the body.
Although the procedure is not a cure for liver cancer, studies have shown that 70 percent or more of patients experience improvement and, depending on the type of cancer, may live longer. Chemoembolization also may relieve pain and other symptoms, make patients more comfortable and improve the quality of their lives. Another advantage is that the procedure may be repeated multiple times.
Chemoembolization may not be appropriate for patients who have blockages of the veins that supply blood to the liver, cirrhosis of the liver or blockage of the bile ducts.
Source: Society of Interventional Radiology © 2003, www.SIRweb.org