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What is radioembolization for liver cancer?

Radioembolization is an outpatient therapy in which tiny radioactive beads are sent to tumors through the bloodstream. The beads stick in the tumors and release radiation that kills nearby cancer cells. This treatment permits a high dose of radiation to be focused directly inside tumors; generally, nearby healthy tissue receives minimal radiation. In the month following treatment, the radiation found in the particles gradually disappears.

Multidisciplinary Liver Tumor Care

When liver tumor patients at the University of Michigan receive this therapy, it means that doctors and nurses are providing cancer care according to a personalized treatment plan developed by specialists in the U-M Liver Cancer Center's multidisciplinary tumor program. Members are experts in hepatology, surgery, medical oncology, radiation oncology, and diagnostic and interventional radiology. Their frequent meetings allow patients to have the expertise of a multidisciplinary team of physicians with a focus on liver cancer - without having to schedule individual appointments.

Radioembolization is a good option for patients with primary and secondary (metastatic tumors) in the liver. The goal of this therapy is to shrink tumors and prevent them from growing again. In some cases, there can be enough shrinkage for the patient to be re-considered for surgery or liver transplantation.

Since 2007, as many as 40 liver tumor patients have been treated annually at the University of Michigan using radioembolization.

What to expect

Radioembolization is performed as an outpatient therapy and involves threading a catheter through the femoral artery in the groin to the arteries feeding the tumor in the liver using X-ray guidance. The radioactive beads are then delivered to the tumor. The procedure is done using light sedation. Most patients return home to light activity within four hours. Some patients require small doses of nausea medicine for a few days after returning home.

Typically, there is one episode of treatment. However, if the cancer is on both sides of the liver, the treatment may be split to two (one for each side of the liver), to maximize safety. These are performed approximately 8 weeks apart. In certain situations, this treatment can be repeated in the future.

Make an appointment/referral, or have your questions answered

The Cancer AnswerLine™ is staffed by oncology nurses and is just a phone call away to answer your questions or to assist you in making an appointment.

Please call 800-865-1125 to make an appointment or for the answers to any questions you have.

NOTE: Children and young adults receive treatment in the Solid Tumor Oncology Program, part of C.S. Mott Children's Hospital.

If you would like to refer a patient, please contact our M-Line service: 800-962-3555. For more information, visit our Make an Appointment web page.

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