Embolization Therapy Treatment

Learn about transarterial embolization and its benefits and risks.

Our interventional radiologists have performed hundreds of transarterial embolizations. We have one of the most active and experienced embolization teams in the region. Our program’s reputation for superior outcomes has established Henry Ford as a major referral center for liver cancer treatment.

We offer four types of transarterial embolization:

  • Bland embolization
  • Chemoembolization
  • Portal vein embolization
  • Radioembolization

The process is largely the same for all four, with some minor differences.

What happens during an embolization procedure?

We will make a small incision in your groin area and insert a catheter (tube) into one of the blood vessels in the leg. Then, we’ll direct the catheter to the hepatic artery (which feeds the tumor), using imaging equipment to guide us. Finally, we’ll inject an embolization mixture into the artery to block the tumor. The goal is to block only the artery that feeds blood to the tumor, minimizing the risk of complications.

An embolization procedure typically takes one to two hours. Patients receive general anesthesia to put them in a “twilight” state to relieve anxiety and prevent pain during the procedure. After embolization treatment, you’ll be moved to a recovery room and monitored by our care team. Some patients can go home the same day, while others stay in the hospital overnight. It typically takes one to two weeks for patients to fully recover from embolization treatment.

Am I a good candidate for transarterial embolization treatment?

Good candidates for embolization therapy have:

  • A tumor that wouldn’t respond to ablation therapy
  • An inoperable tumor
  • Endocrine system cancer that has spread to the liver, including a carcinoid tumor – a slow-growing tumor that often begins in the digestive tract
  • Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) – the most common liver cancer
  • Metastatic cancer that has spread to the liver from other areas of the body, including the skin, breast, and colon

Types of embolization therapy

Bland embolization

We perform bland embolization by placing tiny particles (usually made of gelatin) into your hepatic artery to embolize (obstruct) it, blocking blood flow to your tumor. We mix in a contrast dye that allows us to accurately target your hepatic artery with fluoroscopy -- X-ray imaging that provides real-time pictures -- as we perform the procedure.

Chemoembolization

Chemoembolization is performed by using tiny, gelatinous particles mixed with chemotherapy drugs to treat your tumor and block off its blood supply -- the hepatic artery. We offer a special type of chemoembolization called Drug Eluting Bead Trans Arterial Chemo-Embolization (DEB-TACE) that delivers chemotherapy precisely to the tumor. Clinical trials have shown DEB-TACE significantly extends patient survival time as compared to traditional chemoembolization.

Portal vein embolization

We use portal vein embolization to prepare your liver for surgery. Instead of blocking off the hepatic artery, we infuse tiny metallic coils into the portal vein to block off the tumor’s blood flow. This causes the other side of your liver to grow larger. Because the liver can regenerate itself after part of it is removed, we’ll wait to operate on the tumor until the liver has grown large enough to function while it heals.

Radioembolization

We perform radioembolization by inserting small glass beads into your hepatic artery, blocking off blood and nutrients to the tumor. These beads contain the radioactive isotope Yttrium-90. This radiation is released slowly into the cancer cells to shrink the tumor.

Benefits and risks of embolization therapy

Transarterial embolization treatments offer many potential benefits, including:

  • Allowing for additional treatment options, such as ablation, surgery or liver transplant
  • Extending life expectancy and improving quality of life for people with inoperable tumors
  • Shrinking tumors to reduce pain and discomfort
  • Minimizing damage to healthy liver tissue

Although rare, some patients may experience serious complications from embolization. We will guide you through the treatment process and discuss any potential risks. Risks that are common across each embolization procedure include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Allergic reaction to the embolization particle mixture
  • Bruising/bleeding where the procedure is performed
  • Fatigue
  • Infection
  • Nausea or vomiting
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