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Chemoembolization for liver cancer

What is chemoembolization?

Chemoembolization delivers chemotherapy drugs directly to a tumor, while minimizing exposure to healthy tissues. This delivery method minimizes side effects, like nausea and vomiting, and maximizes the cancer-killing properties of the drugs.

During chemoembolization, chemotherapy is injected through a catheter directly into a tumor using image guidance. The chemotherapy drugs are mixed with particles, called microspheres, which block the flow of blood to the tumor. Without a blood supply, the tumor no longer has the oxygen and nutrients it needs to grow.

Chemoembolization allows high doses of chemotherapy drugs to be targeted directly to the cancerous tissue for a longer period of time, without exposing the entire body to the effect of the drugs.

This method of chemotherapy is primarily used for the treatment of liver cancer, and may also be used for the treatment of cancers that have spread to the liver.

Chemoembolization for liver cancer

Unlike other organs, the liver has two blood supplies – the portal vein that feeds most normal liver cells and the hepatic artery that feeds cancer cells in the liver. This unique feature of the liver allows your doctor to kill the cancer cells while sparing the healthy tissue.

Despite the different blood supplies to the tumor and normal cells of the liver, chemoembolization reduces some of the blood supply to the normal liver tissue. This is a serious issue if you have cirrhosis in parts of the liver not affected by cancer.

The general embolization side effects may include abdominal pain, fever, liver infection, gallbladder inflammation and blood clots in the main blood vessels of the liver.

Your care team will work together with other clinicians, including the naturopathic medicine, pain management and nutrition teams, to help prevent and ease any side effects you experience.

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