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Chemoembolization for Liver Cancer: The Procedure

Chemoembolization is a way to treat cancer in the liver. It can be used for cancer that starts in the liver. Or it can be used for cancer that has spread (metastasized) to the liver from other parts of the body. The procedure treats only cancer in the liver. It is done by a specially trained doctor called an interventional radiologist.

How does chemoembolization work?

Woman lying in hospital bed with IV in arm. Man is sitting next to bed. Healthcare provider is checking IV.

The hepatic artery is a large blood vessel. It sends blood to the liver. To grow, a liver tumor takes most of its blood from this artery. During the procedure, chemotherapy medicines are put into the hepatic artery. The artery is then blocked off from the rest of the body. This makes sure the medicines stay in the liver. And it cuts off blood to the tumor.

The goals of chemoembolization

  • Block the tumor’s blood flow so it gets no oxygen or nutrients

  • Send high doses of chemotherapy medicines directly to the tumor site

  • Keep chemotherapy medicines in the tumor for long periods of time

  • Reduce side effects to the rest of the body. This is because the medicines do not leave the liver.

Getting ready for the procedure

  • Do not eat or drink anything for 6 hours before the procedure.

  • Tell your healthcare provider what medicines you take. This includes aspirin, supplements, and herbs. Ask if you should stop taking them.

During the procedure

When you arrive for the procedure, an IV (intravenous) line will be put into your arm. This line will give you fluids and medicine to prepare your body for the procedure. This preparation may take several hours. To begin the procedure:

  • The healthcare provider puts a long, flexible tube (catheter) into an artery in your groin.

  • The provider puts an X-ray dye (contrast medium) through the catheter. This helps the artery and catheter show up better on X-rays. The provider can see the movement of the catheter on a video monitor.

  • The provider guides the catheter to the hepatic artery in the liver. He or she then moves it to the tumor.

  • The provider injects the chemoembolization medicines through the catheter. He or she then injects a substance that blocks the artery.

  • The catheter is removed. The provider puts pressure is put on the insertion site for 15 minutes. This is to prevent bleeding.

  • You will lie flat for several hours. During this time, an IV line will give you fluids. You will likely stay in the hospital for 3 to 5 days after the procedure.

Side effects of chemoembolization

Side effects include tiredness, abdominal pain, fever, nausea, and loss of appetite. These may last for several days. Medicines can help lessen certain side effects.


What are the risks and complications of chemoembolization?

  • Blood clot in a blood vessel

  • Infection or bruising where the  catheter was inserted

  • Death of normal liver tissue. This may lead to liver failure.

  • Damage to the gallbladder or other nearby organs

  • Problems because of the contrast medium. These might be an allergic reaction or kidney damage.

  • Damage to an artery

  • Death



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