Question: I’m 75 years old and have been diagnosed with liver cancer. My oncologist doesn’t think my body can handle surgery to remove the tumor so he’s talking about alternative treatments. What is interventional radiology and can minimally invasive techniques really help?
Answer: Interventional radiology refers to a wide variety of minimally invasive and very targeted therapies that use image guidance, tiny catheters and miniature instruments to internally treat numerous conditions including women’s health issues, arterial and venous diseases, cancer and more. By virtue of being less invasive than traditional open surgery, interventional radiology techniques rarely require general anesthesia and typically result in shorter recovery times, less scarring and less pain. In addition, these techniques may offer treatment options to individuals whose conditions don’t make them candidates for open surgery.
Interventional radiology has carved a profound niche in cancer treatment over the last five years. Traditionally, cancer care entails removing the tumor and instituting a systemic chemotherapy and/or radiation treatment regimen to kill remaining cancer cells. However, some patients can’t tolerate surgery or chemotherapy due to the stage of their cancer or risks posed by other underlying diseases. That’s when interventional radiologic techniques for cancer treatment really shine.
Interventional radiology offers many nonsurgical options to treat various types of cancer including kidney, liver, bone and lung. Some of the more common procedures include cryoablation to freeze tumors, radiofrequency and microwave ablation to burn tumors, and chemo embolization to deliver chemo (chemical) medication directly into the blood vessels supplying the tumor rather than through veins in the arms. Chemo embolization results in less side effects and more of the agent being delivered directly to the tumor. This very targeted approach to cancer care is most effective in treating primary liver cancer. In some liver cancer cases, interventional radiology techniques have been able to reduce the size of an inoperable tumor, subsequently making someone who wasn’t a candidate for surgery eligible to undergo surgery to remove the tumor.
There are an array of interventional procedures used to treat cancer that enable radiologists to tailor treatment regimens that take into account each patient’s tumor size and location, clinical status and overall tolerance level.
Interventional radiology is all about giving patients low-risk treatment options that can extend and improve their quality of life. If surgery isn’t an option or doesn’t appear to be the best option, talk to your doctor or oncologist. Interventional radiology may be worth exploring.