A new procedure may put an end to older, more painful treatment methods for liver cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, the number of liver cancer cases has more than tripled since 1980.
Currently cancer that either begins in the liver or has spread to the liver is often treated by months of chemotherapy and painful radiation treatments.
This new procedure involves using tiny beads that carry a high dose of radiation directly to the cancer cells.
The liver has two blood supplies.
Most normal liver cells are fed by branches of the portal vein, whereas cancer cells in the liver are usually fed by branches of the hepatic artery. Blocking the branch of the hepatic artery feeding the tumor helps kill off the cancer cells, however it leaves most of the healthy liver cells unharmed because they get their blood supply from the portal vein.
A catheter is inserted through a tiny incision in the groin and threaded through the arteries to a blood vessel in the liver. The more blood flow the tumor gets, the more beads with radioactive particles get deposited into the tumor. This is a one day, non-surgical procedure.
This process is called trans-arterial chemoembolization.
Side effects of embolization include abdominal pain, fever nausea, infection in the liver, gallbladder inflammation, and blood clots in the main blood vessels of the liver.
Additionally, because healthy liver tissue can be affected, there is a risk that liver function will get worse after embolization. This risk if higher is a large branch of the hepatic artery is embolized. Fortunately, serious complications although possible, are not common.
Traditional radiation and chemotherapy cannot be administered at very high doses because normal liver tissue is easily damaged by radiation.