Chemoembolisation is when chemotherapy drugs are injected into blood vessels to block the blood flow to the cancer cells.

What is chemoembolisation?

Chemoembolisation is a treatment used for cancer that starts in the liver, or cancer that has spread to the liver from somewhere else in the body.

In chemoembolisation, a chemotherapy drug is injected directly into the liver. This means the tumour gets a higher concentration of the drugs. After the chemotherapy drug is given, you have an injection into the blood vessels that carry blood to the liver (arteries). This blocks the arteries and cuts off the blood supply to the tumour (embolisation).

Sometimes the chemotherapy drug is loaded into special beads. Chemoembolisation is sometimes called TACE (trans-arterial chemoembolisation) or CT-ACE (computerised tomography-guided arterial chemoembolisation).

The drugs most often used are doxorubicin and cisplatin.

How chemoembolisation is given

You may need to stay in hospital for a couple of nights. Before the treatment, the nurse or doctor will usually give you a mild sedative to help you relax. They then inject some local anaesthetic into the skin at the top of your leg (your groin) to numb the area. After this, the doctor makes a tiny cut in the skin. They put a fine tube called a catheter through the cut and into a blood vessel in your groin (the femoral artery).

The doctor passes the catheter up along the artery until it reaches the blood vessels that take blood to the liver and tumour. You have an x-ray of the blood vessels at the same time. This is called an angiogram. A dye is put into the blood vessel through the catheter. This shows the blood supply on the x-ray so the doctor sees exactly where the catheter is. After this, they slowly inject the chemotherapy into the liver through the catheter. The doctor then injects a gel or tiny plastic beads to block the blood supply to the tumour. The beads may contain a chemotherapy drug.

You can have chemoembolisation several times. It is sometimes given with radiofrequency ablation. Your doctor can explain this treatment to you in more detail.

Side effects

Chemoembolisation can cause side effects such as:

You will be given anti-sickness drugs and painkillers until the side effects reduce. This usually takes 1 to 2 weeks.

It is unusual for chemotherapy given in this way to cause side effects outside your liver. Serious complications are rare, but occasionally it can damage the liver.

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