Chemoembolization is a minimally-invasive procedure used to primarily treat inoperable liver cancer in patients whose tumor(s) began or spread to the liver.

This treatment is not a cure, and results last approximately ten to fourteen months. The procedure benefits include:

  • Decreases tumor size
  • Improves patients quality of life
  • Causes minimal side-effects
  • Faster recovery
  • The procedure can be repeated

There are two blood supplies that feed the liver; the portal vein and hepatic artery. The liver receives most of its blood through the portal vein and a small portion via the hepatic artery. When the tumor develops in the liver, the blood and nutrients supply supporting the growth come from the hepatic artery.

Interventional radiologists use embolic agent to block the blood flow that feeds the growth and deliver a targeted dose of chemotherapy to the tumor. By feeding chemotherapy drugs through the hepatic artery, the tumor is directly targeted and healthy tissue in the liver is preserved. Another advantage is that the cancer drugs do not affect the rest of the body.

Depending on the type of cancer and number of tumors, other treatment options may be paired with chemoembolization including:

  • Surgery
  • Radiation therapy
  • Radiofrequency ablation

The Procedure

Not everyone with inoperable liver cancer is a candidate for this procedure. Prior to the procedure, testing will be done to determine your rate of kidney function and to verify that your blood clots normally.

Be sure to tell your doctor if you:

  • Are diabetic
  • Have kidney disease
  • Have a coagulation disorder
  • Are taking medications
  • Are taking herbal supplements
  • Are allergic to
    • local anesthetics like Lidocaine, Procaine, and Benzocaine
    • general anesthesia
    • iodine
  • Are pregnant

Before the procedure, patients are sedated. Then, using a fluoroscope is a guide, the radiologist makes an incision and insert a catheter through the groin area and guides the catheter to the hepatic artery.

Once in place, the chemotherapy and embolic agents are introduced into the bloodstream. The embolic agents block the food supply that feeds a tumor and cause it to wither, while the good tissue in the liver remains healthy because it receives blood from portal vein. Over the next month, the liver will process and eliminate chemotherapy drug.

The procedure is usually complete in about one and a half hours, followed by a stay at the hospital for one or more days.


Most patients are able to resume normal activities within a week.

In the month following the procedure, be prepared for follow-up testing to determine the success of the treatment.