Chemoembolization is a minimally invasive treatment for liver cancer that can be used when the tumor is not amenable to treatment by surgery or by radiofrequency ablation (RFA).

Chemoembolization delivers and traps a high dose of cancer-killing drug (chemotherapy) directly in the tumor while depriving the tumor of its blood supply by blocking, or "embolizing," the arteries feeding the tumor. Using real time X-ray imaging for guidance, the interventional radiologist threads a tiny catheter up the femoral artery in the groin into the blood vessels supplying the liver tumor. Using the catheter ensures treatment of the tumors while sparing other areas of the liver and the rest of the body. The embolic agents trap the chemotherapy drug in the tumor. This allows for a high dose of chemotherapy drug to be used, because less of the drug is able to spill into the tumors' surroundings.

Chemoembolization usually involves a hospital stay of less than a day. Patients typically have lower than normal energy levels for a few weeks afterwards.

Chemoembolization is a palliative, not a curative, treatment. It can be very effective in treating primary liver cancers (hepatocellular carcioma or hepatoma), and in some cases, can result in reduction of tumors sufficiently to qualify a patient for transplantation. Chemoembolization has also shown promising results with some types of metastatic tumors. The individual materials used in this treatment are FDA approved and this technique has been performed for decades, but the treatment itself is not specifically approved by the FDA.

Chemoembolization facts:

  • State-of-the-art treatment for unresectable primary liver cancer (hepatoma or hepatocellular carcinoma), and for select metastatic tumors including neuroendocrine carcinoma.
  • Minimal hospital stay, usually overnight
  • May require repeated treatments
  • Experienced team of doctors and nurses at Stanford Hospital offering this treatment since the 1980s
  • Multidisciplinary collaboration with emphasis on teamwork with referring physicians and other specialties at Stanford Health Care, which include liver transplantation, surgical oncology, medical oncology, and radiation oncology.
  • Active research program investigating new drugs, new embolic agents, and new imaging techniques.