What is Chemoembolization?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 22 September 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
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Chemoembolization is a nonsurgical cancer treatment which is most commonly used on cancer of the liver, although it can be suitable for certain other types of cancer as well. In this cancer treatment, chemotherapy and an embolizing agent are injected, cutting off the supply of blood to the tumor while also hitting it with a large dose of chemotherapy. This one-two punch to the tumor is designed to kill it so that the cancer cannot spread, and it can be suitable for certain types of vascular tumors, ocular melanoma, and some other cancers beyond liver cancer.

The procedure requires the patient to be sedated, so that a catheter can be inserted. Guided by x-ray, the catheter is brought to the hepatic artery, in the case of liver cancer, and a mix of concentrated chemotherapy and an embolitic are injected. The embolitic acts to block the flow of blood through the artery, trapping the chemotherapy drugs inside while also starving the tumor of blood. Using medical imaging studies, a doctor can see in the chemoembolization worked, and track the tumor as it dies off.


Patients often experience pain and discomfort during the procedure, which can be managed with pain management medications. The injection of the chemotherapy drugs can sometimes sting, and when the embolizing agent is injected, patients can sometimes experience discomfort. The chemoembolization procedure has to be performed carefully to ensure that the drugs are delivered to the right location, and follow-up appointments are used to confirm that things are progressing as expected.

This procedure is performed by an interventional radiologist, a doctor who has completed training in radiology and taken additional training to learn to use radiology in medical procedures. The doctor is usually assisted by nurses and other staff. Chemoembolization is generally an outpatient procedure, with the patient being cleared to go home after she or he has had a few hours in recovery. However, patients often feel groggy afterwards, and it is advisable to arrange for transportation after the appointment.

Chemoembolization is not an option for every cancer, but it can be an option to consider. When discussing approaches to cancer treatment with their oncologists, patients should ask for a complete list of their options, and the benefits and drawbacks of each. The specific prognosis and risks can vary with each case, and the doctor should be able to provide detailed information to help the patient make an informed decision about how to proceed with cancer treatment.



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