Heart and Vascular Center

Chemoembolization for Liver Tumor

The most common cause of liver cancer is usually cirrhosis (scarring of the liver). Cirrhosis may be caused by viral hepatitis, primarily hepatitis B and C, alcohol abuse, hemochromatosis, certain autoimmune diseases of the liver, and other diseases that result in chronic inflammation of the liver.

Risk factors

The most common liver cancer risk factor is chronic irritation, which causes the liver cells to divide more quickly than they ordinarily would to repair perceived damage. The more often cells divide, the more the chance for a genetically abnormal one to arise, with the gene changes leading to its becoming cancerous. Other risk factors include:

  • Chronic hepatitis, which can lead to changes in the liver cells associated with the most common type of liver cancer, hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Prior Hepatitis B infection is found in 75 percent of liver cancer patients worldwide. Hepatitis B can lead to cirrhosis. The more common Hepatitis A (spread by feces) is not associated with liver cancer.
  • Cirrhosis of the liver (the liver can shrink up and become fibrous and fatty in response to chronic irritation). Alcoholism is a leading cause of cirrhosis, which leads to approximately 5% of liver cancers.


Symptoms of liver cancer include:

  • Abdominal pain or tenderness, particularly in the right-upper quadrant
  • Enlarged abdomen
  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • Jaundice (a yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes)

Screening and Diagnosis

Liver cancer may be discovered during a routine checkup if your doctor feels hard lumps in the abdomen, or incidentally by imaging studies. To confirm a diagnosis of liver cancer, your doctor would use blood tests; ultrasound; computer tomography (CT) scans; and magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI. Your doctors may find it necessary to do a biopsy, where a small sample of liver tissue is removed with a needle and then examined for cancer cells.


Hepatic (liver) chemoembolization is the process of injecting an antineoplastic medication (chemotherapy) directly into a liver tumor by angiographically guided imaging in the Interventional Radiology department. The procedure is performed using intravenous sedation, to make our patients “relaxed and sleepy” and is considered to be a safe and effective treatment for liver tumors which cannot be resected (removed) by surgical methods

The embolization process entails localization of the tumor via the artery that supplies blood to the liver tumor. The tumor’s blood supply is stopped by injecting the chemotherapy drug directly into the tumor, soaking the tumor in a very high concentration of the drugs over a prolonged period of time, causing the tumor cells to die. A series of up to three injections of the chemotherapy is usually required, over a nine to 12-month period, for maximum effect. Some patients experience some side effects including nausea, localized pain or fever, which is treated with medication. Patients usually stay overnight in the hospital and are allowed to go home the following day.