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In selected patients who have a cancer recurrence following surgical removal of liver cancer, arterial embolization (blocking the arteries that supply blood to a tumor) appears to produce good survival results. These results were published in the journal Cancer.

The most common type of liver cancer, hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), is characterized by cancer that starts in cells of the liver and can spread through blood and lymph vessels to different parts of the body.

The liver is the largest organ in the body and is responsible for over 500 functions. These include the secretion of glucose, proteins, vitamins, and fats; the production of bile; the processing of hemoglobin; and the detoxification of numerous substances.

A standard treatment approach for early HCC, a stage in which the cancer has not spread from the liver to distant sites in the body, is the surgical removal of the cancer (surgical resection). However, many patients eventually experience a cancer recurrence following surgical resection of HCC. Researchers therefore continue to explore the optimal approaches to treatment of cancer recurrence.

Arterial embolization refers to the process of blocking the arteries that supply blood to a tumor. This deprives the tumor of the nutrients it requires to grow. Researchers at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York use this procedure in selected patients with HCC recurrences; they describe their experiences with the procedure in an article published in the journal Cancer .

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Between 1997 and 2004, 45 patients underwent a total of 142 embolizations for HCC that had recurred after surgery. In addition to embolization, six of the 45 patients also underwent additional procedures such as radiofrequency ablation in order to destroy the tumor.

A majority (87%) of the patients had cancer that had recurred only in the liver. In general, patients were required to have single tumors that were less than 12 cm or multiple tumors that involved less than half the liver; no biliary obstruction; and well-compensated cirrhosis.

  • Half the patients survived for at least 46 months after embolization.
  • 86% of patients survived for at least one year after embolization, 74% survived for at least two years, and 47% survived for at least five years.
  • Patients whose cancer recurrence consisted of only a single tumor had significantly better survival than other patients.
  • 14% of the embolization procedures resulted in complications

The researchers conclude that in patients with good liver function, arterial embolization is effective in the treatment of liver cancer that recurs after surgery. Survival is best among patients whose recurrence consists of only a single tumor.

Reference: Covey AM, Maluccio MA, Schubert J et al. Particle Embolization of Recurrent Hepatocellular Carcinoma after Hepatectomy. Cancer. 2006;106:2181-9.