What is Radioembolization?

Cancer in the liver has been difficult to treat with external beam radiation therapy in the past because the normal liver is easily injured by radiation. Radioembolization is a technique that allows us to selectively subject cancerous tumors within the liver to high doses of radiation with little risk to the rest of the liver or surrounding organs. This is done, like with chemoembolization, through a tiny catheter or tube threaded into the hepatic artery (liver artery) from an anesthetized artery at the top of the leg. Tiny resin spheres, called Sir-Spheres, contain yttrium 90 (y90) are injected carefully through the catheter into the liver circulation. Cancer deposits have many more “parking spaces” for these radioactive spheres than do regions of normal liver tissue. Therefore, the cancer deposits receive far more radiation than does normal liver tissue. Cancers sensitive to radiation may be very effectively controlled with this therapy.

Like chemoembolization, this treatment is reserved for some, but not all, cancers involving the liver. If patients have tumor in other parts of their body, or if their liver function is compromised, this may not be the best therapy for them. We most commonly use this therapy in select patients with metastatic cancer to the liver from colorectal cancer, neuroendocrine cancer, breast carcinoma, GI sarcomas and others. It is also frequently effective in primary liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma and intra-hepatic cholangiocarcinoma).