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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 cancer 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. Many substances can be used to block blood flow. They include liquid glue, tiny beads, or tiny metal coils.

This method may be used to put other types of treatment into the tumour. These other treatments include:

  • Chemotherapy (chemoembolization). This treatment may use beads to block blood flow. The beads also release medicine that kills cancer. Or a chemotherapy drug may be put into the tumour first. It's followed by the substance that blocks the artery.
  • Radiation (radiotherapy embolization or radioembolization). The beads used to block blood flow also release radiation to kill cancer cells.

Embolization is sometimes done to shrink a tumour before tumour ablation. It may also be done before surgery because it reduces bleeding. This makes the tumour easier to see.

Tumour ablation is a way to destroy tumours. It may be done using:

  • Heat. Radio waves may be used to burn the tumour. This is called radiofrequency ablation. Other ways to apply heat include using microwaves, lasers, or ultrasound.
  • Cold. A very cold gas is used to freeze the tumour. This is called cryotherapy or cryoablation.
  • Chemicals. A cancer-killing substance is injected into the tumour. This is called chemical ablation. Alcohol (ethanol) is often used.

Ablation may be a good option for smaller tumours. It may not work well in larger tumours.

How are they done?

For both procedures, the doctor uses ultrasound, fluoroscopy, CT, or MRI 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. 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. If the tumour is large, the doctor may repeat the process from a different angle. This is 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. But in some cases, you might need to stay in the hospital overnight or longer.

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

You will have tests in the months 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 call line 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.

Where can you learn more?

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