Embolization – Tumor

Why is this procedure done?

Embolization is a general term for closing off or occluding a vessel. Tumor embolization is generally done to reduce bleeding prior to a surgical resection or removal of the tumor. These tumors can be very vascular (having a large blood supply), and embolizing the tumor prior to surgery helps reduce blood loss during the procedure, can help to obtain a better resection and reduces surgical procedure times.

How is embolization done?

Endovascular embolization is a treatment where a catheter is placed into an artery in your groin or wrist and directed under an x-ray camera to the vessels that need to be closed. Typically, a smaller catheter is positioned into the vessel as close to the site of occlusion (closure) as possible. Material is then injected or advanced through the smaller catheter to achieve vessel closure. The material may be small coils, small particles or a liquid material that hardens in the vessel. This is generally done using sedation or anesthesia.  

What are my risks? What are common complications?

All medical procedures have risks. The risks of embolization can include bleeding of the vessel in the groin area or wrist. Less common is closing off a vessel that goes to a structure or organ that is vital to function, causing symptoms. In the head and neck area, stroke is the most concerning risk, as the vessels are all connected to branches that go to the brain. Nerves that come out at the base of the skull or spine could also become injured by loss of blood supply. These nerves control motor and sensory function to the face and eyes, as well as vision. In some cases, a very long procedure could also lead to radiation injury, leading to loss of hair or skin burns.  

As with any medical procedure, you should talk to your doctor about the risks versus the benefits of the procedure.

What do I need to know before the procedure?

If anesthesia or sedation is planned, you may not eat or drink for at least six hours prior to the beginning of the procedure. X-ray dye is used to map the blood vessels, so if you have a history of allergy to x-ray dye, you will need to start pretreatment medications the day before your procedure. Most embolizations can be done with a short stay admission or the day before a planned surgery for tumor removal.

General discharge instructions.

  • Keep the site clean and dry.
  • You may have soreness, a bruise or a knot near where the needle was inserted for a few days to a few weeks. This is normal.
  • Check the spot where the needle was inserted for redness, pain, swelling and a lot of bleeding or drainage. Call us if this happens.
  • You may shower the next day, but do not soak the puncture site for two weeks (no tub bathing, swimming or getting in the hot tub).
  • You may return to work three days after the procedure.
  • No exercising, lifting objects greater than 10 pounds or strenuous activity for the next five days.
  • If you take Glucophage (metformin or metformin products), do not take it for two days after the embolization. On the third day, start again as prescribed.

What should I expect while recovering?

Most patients are admitted to the hospital for surgical resection of their tumor for a day to a few days after the procedure. Some patients will experience pain in the area of the tumor after blood supply is cut off. This will be managed by the team caring for the patient in the hospital.


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