Radioembolization: Shrinking Liver Tumors

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You’ve gotten a diagnosis of liver cancer. You and your oncologist are considering your next steps. While not a guaranteed cure, radioembolization offers help. Radioembolization treats your liver cancer with radiation. This treatment shrinks the liver tumors which can relieve symptoms and slows down cancer growth.

Radioembolization vs. Traditional Radiation

Radioembolization uses radiation-filled glass or resin beads that are put into the small arteries inside the liver. These beads are smaller than the width of a human hair. They deliver radiation to liver tumors while only a small amount of radiation to the normal liver or surrounding tissues.

Compared to traditional techniques, radioembolization:

  • Has a shorter recovery time
  • Saves healthy liver from radiation
  • Only uses a small cut, with little pain, to introduce the radioactive beads
  • Usually has fewer side effects than other therapies for liver cancer

This procedure does require two to three procedures, some requiring an overnight stay in the hospital.

Preparing for the Procedure

You’ll meet with an interventional radiologist to discuss:

  • Your cancer history
  • Review your medical images
  • Getting new bloodwork
  • Your current medications and known allergies

You’ll first have an angiogram, a study of the blood vessels in the liver, to map your blood supply to the liver. This helps to figure out the best dose of radioactive beads. This procedure requires a small incision at the top of the leg or at the wrist. A small tube is introduced through the skin into the artery below the skin. Radiographic contrast and a small test of radiation is injected into the arteries of the liver.

Most patients can go home a few hours after this angiogram.

After Radioembolization

The next visit is to repeat the angiogram and deliver the planned dose of radioactive beads. Most people don’t feel the beads going in, but they will start delivering radiation to the tumor immediately. The beads stay in your liver, but finish delivering most of their radiation in just a few days.

Depending on your health, you may go home the same day or stay in the hospital for one or two days.

You might have a few mild side effects for a few days up to a few weeks:

  • Mild abdominal pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Fever

Most people return to normal activities after a few days.

The radiation will be gone in a few days, but it takes three months to start to see the effect of the radiation. You’ll have follow-up CT or MRI scans to measure the tumor's size at this time.

Avoid Contact with Others

Because there is radioactive material used, you’ll need to limit contact with others after the procedure for just a few days. Try to avoid pregnant women and children for three to seven days. Talk with your provider about these specific guidelines.