Benefits vs. Risks of Chemoembolization

Chemoembolization Benefits

  • In about two-thirds of cases treated, chemoembolization can stop liver tumors from growing or cause them to shrink. This benefit lasts for an average of 10 to 14 months, depending upon the type of tumor, and usually can be repeated if the cancer starts to grow again.
  • Other types of therapy (tumor ablation, chemotherapy, radiation) may be used in combination with chemoembolization to control the tumor.
  • When cancer is confined to the liver, most deaths that occur are due to liver failure caused by the growing tumor, not due to the spread of cancer throughout the body. Chemoembolization can help prevent this growth of the tumor, potentially preserving liver function and a relatively normal quality of life.

Chemoembolization Risks

  • Any procedure where the skin is penetrated carries a risk of infection. The chance of infection requiring antibiotic treatment appears to be less than one in 1,000.
  • Any procedure that involves placement of a catheter inside a blood vessel carries certain risks. These risks include damage to the blood vessel, bruising or bleeding at the puncture site, and infection.
  • There is always a chance that embolization material can lodge in the wrong place and deprive normal tissue of its blood supply.
  • There is a risk of infection after embolization, even if an antibiotic has been given.
  • Because angiography is part of the procedure, there is a risk of an allergic reaction to the contrast material.
  • Because angiography is part of the procedure, there is a risk of kidney damage in patients with diabetes or other pre-existing kidney disease.
  • Reactions to chemotherapy may include nausea, hair loss, a decrease in white blood cells, a decrease in platelets and anemia. Because chemoembolization traps most of the chemotherapy drugs in the liver, these reactions are usually mild.
  • Serious complications from chemoembolization occur after about one in 20 procedures. Most major complications involve either infection in the liver or damage to the liver. Reporting indicates that approximately one in 100 procedures result in death, usually due to liver failure.