What is Radioembolization?



Radioembolization is a type of cancer treatment procedure wherein radioactive particles are delivered via the bloodstream, which then accumulate in the tumor and emit radiation to kill cancer cells. Generally, radioembolization is recommended to treat liver cancer, but it may also be advised to patients who are unable to undergo other cancer treatments.

Oncology experts perform radioembolization during the angiogram process. Here, the doctor will insert a catheter into an artery, typically in the groin, under X-ray guidance, and move it to the blood vessels connected to the tumor in the liver. After that, a liquid with tiny radioactive particles is injected into the artery to let them stay in the tumor, block the flow of blood to cancer cells, and kill them to shrink the tumor.

The nearby healthy areas in the liver suffer minimal radiation damage in this procedure and the radiation in the particles slowly disappears within 4 – 6 weeks. Yet before the radioembolization treatment, the doctor will perform routine blood tests and blood flow checkups to ensure that the procedure can be safely performed and to determine its likelihood of success. An initial angiogram may also be performed as a test run to see that the arteries in the abdomen and liver are in a healthy condition for radioembolization.

Common Uses for Radioembolization

The ideal uses for radioembolization are still being studied by healthcare experts. Yet it is seen to be significantly beneficial in treating cancer in the liver, be it metastasized cancer that has spread from a tumor in the colon or breast to the liver or hepatocellular carcinoma. Other than that, metastatic colorectal cancer, cholangiocarcinoma, lung cancer with liver metastasis, and neuroendocrine tumors including carcinoid tumors that have spread to the liver are also treated using radioembolization.

In some cases, radioembolization may also be recommended to patients who have a type of sarcoma known as gastrointestinal stromal tumor. In any case, the treatment procedure is generally used in combination with other well-established cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and surgery. Sometimes, radioembolization may also be used to shrink excessively large liver tumors to support their surgical removal. However, patients with severe liver disease or an abnormal blood flow between the lungs and liver are not recommended radioembolization.

Some reports say that people who undergo radioembolization and chemotherapy for liver cancer live longer than those who receive chemotherapy treatment alone. Radioembolization is seen to have a low rate of serious side effects too. However, more clinical trials are required to fully establish the benefits of radioembolization. Contact CCCHC to learn more about radioembolization.

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    About the Author

    Dr. Ghassan M. Al-Jazayrly, MD

    A graduate of University of Aleppo Faculty of Medicine, Dr. Al-Jazayrly or, as he is colloquially known: Dr. AJ, is an oncologist and hematologist of a Complete Care Community Health Center (CCCHC) with more than 36 years of experience. In recent years, he’s been involved with a non profit organization known as Every Woman Counts (EWC) which provides free breast and cervical cancer screening and diagnostic services to California’s underserved populations in order to eliminate health disparities for low-income individuals.

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