Interventional Radiology

This page was reviewed under our medical and editorial policy by

Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science

This page was updated on April 4, 2022.

Interventional radiology (IR) is an area of medicine providing minimally invasive, image-guided diagnoses and treatments of various diseases. The goal of interventional radiology is to use advanced but minimally invasive techniques to reduce risk of harm to the patient. Interventional radiologists are trained to use medical imaging technologies such as X-rays, fluoroscopy, computed tomography (CT) scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) not just for diagnostic radiology, but also to treat patients without surgical intervention. Interventional radiologists may perform these procedures to obtain biopsies, open blocked blood vessels or deliver medications directly to disease sites.

Interventional radiology procedures at City of Hope are performed through tiny holes instead of the large incisions required for some surgeries. Using this technique, small catheters, needles and other minimally invasive instruments may be guided to the appropriate area for treatment. As an alternative to open surgery, interventional radiology procedures may reduce risk, cause less pain and mean shorter recovery times for the patient. These procedures often require only sedation, rather than general anesthesia, eliminating the need for a hospital stay. Less invasive treatments may also offer alternative options for a patient who cannot undergo traditional surgical procedures.

IR procedures may be used for a range of needs, including:

  • Angioplasty (percutaneous transluminal angioplasty) to widen arteries and veins
  • Stenting, use of a mesh tube (stent), to keep a passageway open
  • Angiography to examine the inside of vessels and organs
  • Embolization to create a blockage in blood flow
  • Microwave ablation to heat and destroy cells
  • Cryoablation to freeze and destroy cells
  • Biopsies to extract abnormal cells
  • Gastrostomy to place a feeding tube
  • Vertebroplasty to inject cement into a vertebrae
  • Inferior vena cava filter (IVCF) placement to catch blood clots

Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) is now City of Hope®, joining forces to expand patient access to personalized, comprehensive cancer care.

Types of interventional radiology

Most interventional radiology procedures may be performed on an outpatient basis or during a short hospital stay. Common interventional radiology procedures include:

Tumor ablation procedures: These minimally invasive treatments may destroy tissue using extreme temperatures. Ablation may be used to treat tumors or alleviate symptoms. Examples of ablation procedures are cryoablation and microwave ablation.

Liver-directed therapies: Targeted treatment is delivered directly to liver tumors, sparing nearby healthy tissue and reducing some side effects. Some therapies used to treat liver tumors include Yttrium-90 radioembolization and chemoembolization.

Vascular work: This treatment uses minimally invasive techniques to place stents, stop bleeding and block the flow of blood to or from tumor tissue to support chemotherapy and radiation therapy response.

Drainage catheters: Fluid retention is a common side effect of some types of cancer. Catheters are used to drain excess fluid and relieve uncomfortable symptoms.

Port and PICC line placement: Many patients are given ports or temporary peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) lines to reduce the number of needle pricks during chemotherapy treatment or diagnostic blood work.

Bone and joint pain management: A variety of bone and joint injections, nerve blocks and fracture management techniques may be used to provide relief from pain.

What are the benefits of interventional radiology?

IR procedures are often the preferred method to treat cardiovascular concerns, such as deep vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolism, varicose veins, aneurysm, peripheral arterial disease and some types of hypertension. However, they may be used to treat a wide range of medical concerns, from liver disease to infertility.

In the world of cancer care, a patient might receive chemoembolization to introduce chemotherapy medicine and block blood flow to a malignant liver tumor. Another type of embolization, a uterine fibroid embolization (UFE, also called uterine artery embolization), may be used to block blood flow to benign fibroids.

Interventional radiology procedures are designed to reduce side effects typically associated with more invasive procedures. Throughout your treatment at City of Hope, your interventional radiologist will monitor your progress and modify your treatment plan as necessary.

Still, side effects, such as fatigue and pain, may occur. Our supportive care services may help you manage the side effects that you experience during cancer treatment. These evidence-supported services include spiritual support, nutritional support, oncology rehabilitation, naturopathic support, pain management and behavioral health. Our interventional radiologists and other cancer experts provide advanced treatments and supportive therapies all under one roof.

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