Interventional Radiology for Liver Cancer

Surgery to remove liver cancer offers the best chance of a cure. But often, a tumor in the liver is too large to remove safely. Or the tumor is too close to major blood vessels or other organs in the body. Some people have many small liver tumors. This can make surgery too difficult or risky. For these reasons, only about 1 in 3 people with cancer that starts in the liver have surgery. For people with another cancer that spreads to the liver, about 1 in 10 has surgery.

Liver cancer treatment options – Interventional radiology

Liver cancer surgery is not the only option. You can have treatment with chemotherapy, radiation or both. When doctors use scans, such as CT scans, X-rays or MRIs to give treatment, this is called "interventional radiology." The treatment is guided by scans so it goes to the right place. The OHSU Knight Cancer Institute has experienced interventional radiologists who are members of the Dotter Interventional Institute.

Different types of interventional radiology

One type of interventional radiology treatment uses your body's blood vessel system. The doctor uses a thin tube to put chemotherapy drugs into the main blood vessel going to your liver. The drug is mixed with a substance that keeps blood from flowing to the tumor. This traps most of the chemotherapy drug near the tumor. Only a small amount of the drug reaches other parts of the body. 

This type of treatment keeps the tumor from getting the oxygen and nutrients it needs to grow. Healthy tissue is also protected. The blood flow to the tumor might be stopped for a short time or permanently. The liver still gets blood from a different vein, to keep the healthy tissue alive.

Our interventional radiologists also use this procedure to send radioactive particles to tumors that are too large to treat with surgery. A third treatment is sending particles into the tumor to release chemotherapy directly inside it for days or weeks.

Interventional radiologists can also use X-rays to guide them directly to the tumor. Then, they use radiofrequency energy, or radio waves, to kill cancer cells. This technique is called radiofrequency ablation or RFA.