Procedures performed by interventional radiologists are being increasingly used in the care of patients with cancer. These specially trained physicians use X-rays, ultrasound or other imaging techniques to guide small tubes called catheters and miniature tools directly to the site of the disease. Interventional radiology procedures for patients with cancer include new approaches for treatment, relieving symptoms and diagnosing cancer without surgical biopsy.
The following information was prepared by the Society of Cardiovascular & Interventional Radiology (SIR) to provide information about techniques used by interventional radiologists in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer and its symptoms.
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How are cancers diagnosed and treated?
There are a number of tests that can help in the diagnosis of cancer, including blood tests, physical examination and a variety of imaging techniques including X-rays (e.g., chest X-rays and mammograms); computed tomography (CT); magnetic resonance (MR); and ultrasound. Usually, however, the final diagnosis cannot be made until a biopsy is performed. In a biopsy, a sample of tissue from the tumor or other abnormality is obtained and examined by a pathologist. Open surgery is sometimes performed to obtain a tissue sample for biopsy. But in most cases, tissue samples can be obtained without open surgery with interventional radiology techniques.
Microscopic view of cancer cells found in tissue obtained during a biopsy
The decision made by a patient and physician about how best to treat a cancer depends on a number of factors, including the type of cancer, how advanced the disease is (sometimes referred to as the cancer "stage"), other health problems that the patient may have and the preference of the patient.
The most common treatments are:
- surgery to remove the cancer
- the administration of cancer-killing drugs (chemotherapy)
- radiation therapy, which kills cancer cells with doses of radiation
In some cases, new interventional radiology procedures can be used to deliver cancer-fighting therapy directly to the site of the tumor. Using moving X-ray pictures to guide them, interventional radiologists insert miniature devices into blood vessels or other body parts through a small nick in the skin and guide them to the site of the cancer. Cancer-killing therapies such as chemotherapy, radiation and radiofrequency energy are then delivered to the tumor.
How can interventional radiology improve the diagnosis and treatment of cancer?
Many interventional radiology procedures for the diagnosis and treatment of cancer can be performed on an outpatient basis or during a short hospital stay. In many cases, the procedures:
- offer new cancer treatment options
- are less painful and debilitating for patients
- result in quicker recoveries
- have fewer side effects and complications
Reprinted with permission of the Society of Interventional Radiology © 2004, www.SIRweb.org. All rights reserved.