Health Information and Tools > Patient Care Handouts >  Tumour Embolization for Liver Cancer: Before Your Procedure
Facebook Tweet Email Share

Main Content

Tumour Embolization for Liver Cancer: Before Your Procedure

The digestive system

What is tumour embolization?

Tumour embolization shrinks a liver tumour by cutting off its blood supply. Procedures commonly done in Alberta include chemoembolization and radioembolization.

You may get medicine to help you relax and to help with pain before the procedure. The doctor will insert a thin, flexible tube into an artery near your groin. Or the tube may be put in your arm. This tube is called a catheter. The doctor will guide it into the artery that supplies blood to the tumour. Then the doctor will send a dye through the catheter into the artery. The dye is called contrast material. It shows up on X-ray pictures. It allows the doctor to check blood flow to the liver and the tumour.

The doctor will send small particles (like grains of sand) through the tube into the artery. This mixture blocks the artery. The block stops blood from getting to the tumour. This causes the tumour to slowly shrink. The mixture may contain chemotherapy or radiation. It helps kill the tumour cells. You may need to stay in the hospital overnight.

Bit by bit, the tumour will be replaced with scar tissue in the months after this is done. This should not affect your liver's ability to do its job.

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.

How do you prepare for the procedure?

Procedures can be stressful. This information will help you understand what you can expect. And it will help you safely prepare for your procedure.

Preparing for the procedure

  • Be sure you have someone to take you home. Anesthesia and pain medicine will make it unsafe for you to drive or get home on your own.
  • Understand exactly what procedure is planned, along with the risks, benefits, and other options.
  • If you take aspirin or some other blood thinner, ask your doctor if you should stop taking it before your procedure. Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do. These medicines increase the risk of bleeding.
  • Tell your doctor ALL the medicines and natural health products you take. Some may increase the risk of problems during your procedure. Your doctor will tell you if you should stop taking any of them before the procedure and how soon to do it.
  • Make sure your doctor and the hospital have a copy of your advance care plan. If you don't have one, you may want to prepare one. It lets others know your health care wishes. It's a good thing to have before any type of surgery or procedure.

What happens on the day of the procedure?

  • Follow the instructions exactly about when to stop eating and drinking. If you don't, your procedure may be cancelled. If your doctor told you to take your medicines on the day of the procedure, take them with only a sip of water.
  • Take a bath or shower before you come in for your procedure. Do not apply lotions, perfumes, deodorants, or nail polish.
  • Remove all jewellery, piercings, and contact lenses.

At the hospital or surgery centre

  • Bring a picture ID.
  • Tell your doctor about any allergies you have.
  • You will be kept comfortable and safe by your anesthesia provider. The anesthesia may make you sleep. Or it may just numb the area being worked on.
  • The procedure will take about 1 to 3 hours.

When should you call your doctor?

  • You have questions or concerns.
  • You don't understand how to prepare for your procedure.
  • You become ill before the procedure (such as fever, flu, or a cold).
  • You need to reschedule or have changed your mind about having the procedure.

For more information on embolization for liver cancer, watch this My Health Alberta video: Cirrhosis - Embolization for liver cancer

For more information on liver cancer, go to

Adapted with permission from copyrighted materials from Healthwise, Incorporated (Healthwise). This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any warranty and is not responsible or liable for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.