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Learning About Tumour Embolization and Ablation

What are tumour embolization and tumour ablation?

These are two ways to treat certain types of tumours without using surgery. These treatments may be used alone or together. They may also be used with other treatments. They may be an option when surgery is not possible or is too risky.

Tumour embolization treats a tumour by cutting off its blood supply. Without blood, the tumour will shrink or at least grow more slowly.

The doctor puts a substance into the blood vessel that supplies or feeds the tumour. Several substances can be used to block blood flow. They may include particles, chemotherapy, or tiny beads. The tiny beads may contain chemotherapy or radiation.

Embolization is sometimes done to shrink a tumour before tumour ablation or it may be used before surgery to reduce bleeding. This makes the tumour easier to treat.

Tumour ablation is a way to destroy tumour cells. It may be done in a few ways:

  • Radiofrequency ablation uses heat from radio waves, microwaves, laser, or ultrasound to burn the tumour.
  • Cryoablation uses very cold gas to freeze the tumour.
  • Chemoablation uses a chemical injected directly into the tumour to kill the cells.

Ablation can be used as a minimally invasive (using only very small cuts) treatment for some tumours. Your doctor considers the size, type, and location of the tumour when choosing this treatment option.

How are they done?

For both procedures, the doctor uses diagnostic imaging to guide the treatment.

Tumour embolization is usually done through an artery. This is called arterial or trans-arterial embolization. A thin tube called a catheter is inserted into a large artery, often one near the groin or in the arm. Then the doctor moves the catheter into the smaller artery that supplies blood to the tumour. The substance that will block the blood supply is placed in the artery near the tumour. Then the catheter is removed.

Tumour ablation is done using a thin needle or probe. The doctor puts it through the skin and into the tumour. The needle or probe sends heat, cold, or chemicals into the tumour. The doctor may repeat the process from a different angle to make sure that all parts of the tumour are treated. After the treatment, the doctor removes the needle or probe.

What can you expect after these treatments?

You may be able to go home the same day. In some cases, you might need to stay in the hospital overnight or longer.

You will have a bandage over your skin where the probe or catheter was inserted. This area may be sore for a day or two.

You will have tests after the procedure to see how well the treatment worked.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

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