YTTRIUM 90 MICROSPHERES THERAPY OF LIVER TUMORS
The information regarding placement of Yttrium 90 microsphres for the management of liver tumors on
the next several pages includes questions commonly asked about the procedure. While the information
has been discussed with you by an Interventional Radiologist, please take a few minutes to review this
packet of information.
WHAT IS YTTRIUM 90 MICROSPHERES OF THE LIVER?
The liver is unique in having two blood supplies- an artery (the hepatic artery) and a large vein (the portal
vein). The normal liver gets about 75% of its blood from the portal vein land only 25% of its blood from
the hepatic artery. When a tumor grows in the liver, it receives almost all of its blood supply from the
Yttrium 90 microspheres of the liver is the injection of beads (either glass or plastic) with
radioactive material directly into the arteries supplying the blood to the liver tumor. Since the beads are
placed directly into the tumor vessels, it does not have the profound impact on the body when compared
to other therapies such as systemic chemotherapy.
Yttrium 90 therapy of the liver is used for tumors limited to or beginning in the liver, with a few
exceptions (the exceptions are evaluated on an individual basis). Yttrium 90 is used for patients that are
considered not to be a candidate for surgery, whose tumors are in multiple places within the liver or
Yttrium 90 is considered palliative, not curative. The goal of Yttrium 90 is to maintain or
improve the quality of life and the life expectancy. Therefore, without any treatment (chemotherapy,
surgery, radiation therapy, etc.), if the life expectancy is 3-6 months, the hope is to extend the life
expectancy by at least 3-4 months.
WHICH PATIENTS WITH LIVER TUMORS ARE CANDIDATES FOR YTTRIUM 90?
Yttrium 90 of liver tumors is usually reserved for tumors beginning in the liver, such as hepatomas, or for
tumors that have primarily spread to the liver, such as colon cancer, islet cell tumors, carcinoid tumors,
breast cancer and some sarcomas. You must have enough normal liver tissue to be able to tolerate
this procedure. The amount of normal residual liver tissue is usually based upon blood tests and a CT
scan or MRI.
WHAT ARE THE OPTIONS AVAILABLE FOR THE TREATMENT OF LIVER TUMORS?
Your physician probably has or will discuss your treatment options with you. Several options are briefly
1. Surgical resection of the liver–The surgeon removes the liver tissue containing and surrounding the
tumor. The remaining liver should be able to maintain the function of the liver. Therefore long
standing damage to the liver called cirrhosis may prevent a surgical resection. Surgery requires an
incision and general anesthesia;
2. Chemoembolization of the liver–The interventional radiologist performs an arteriogram to identify
the arteries in the liver supplying the tumor. Once the arteries are located, the physician injects
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chemotherapy agents and plugs the artery with particles. Most of the remaining liver receives it food
(blood and oxygen) supply from the portal vein, while tumors tend to receive their food supply from
the hepatic (liver) arteries;
3. Intravenous chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy–Most tumors that begin in the liver do not
respond very well to this type of treatment. For tumors that have spread to the liver, the multiple
chemotherapy drugs have been used without complete control of the tumor;
4. Alcohol or heat ablation–For liver tumor less than 5 cms in size (preferably less than 3 cm), either
direct alcohol injection or heating the tumor and a small area of tissue around the tumor may help to
shrink the tumor; or
5. Transplantation–In a small number of patients with liver tumors, the patient may be a candidate for
transplantation. Your liver doctor will tell you if you are a candidate for liver transplantation. Even
if you are a candidate for a transplant, your doctor may decide that you need a chemoembolization or
Yttrium 90 therapy procedure to prepare you for the transplantation.
6. Yttrium 90 Microspheres–An Interventional Radiologist does an arteriogram of the arteries going to
the liver. A Low dose radiation particle is place directly into the artery going to the liver tumor.
Limited to patients that the radiation does not leak to the lungs or bowels;
7. Radiation Oncology–The use of high-energy rays to damage cancer cells, stopping them from
growing and dividing.
8. Do Nothing–You and your physician decide that the options listed above are not in your best interest.
9. Nexavar (Sorafenib) –An oral chemotherapy agent that has been approved by the FDA that interferes
with the growth of cancer cells and slows their growth and spread in the body.
WHO ARE NOT CANDIDATES FOR THE PROCEDURE?
Patients with extensive spread of tumor outside the liver, and jaundice or confusion due to liver disease
are not candidates. Patients whose liver is not functioning normally are not candidates. Patients with a
history of x-ray contrast agent reactions, blood disorders, severe kidney or heart disease are at higher risk
for the procedure, but these patients are assessed on an individual basis.
Patients with partial blockage of the portal vein are usually candidates for Yttrium 90. The normal
liver tissue receives the majority of its food supply from the portal vein. Therefore, it is important to
check how good the portal vein flow is before the procedure.
Your physician may recommend that you have several tests, including liver function tests, and a
CT scan or a MRI of your liver prior to the Yttrium 90 procedure. The tests will assist you doctor in
determining that you do not have: new tumors in other parts of your body, if the Yttrium 90 beads will
stay in the liver, cirrhosis of the liver, or a blockage of the bile ducts. If any of these problems are found,
you may not be a candidate for the Yttrium 90 procedure.
HOW MANY TIMES WILL I NEED TO HAVE THE PROCEDURE DONE?
Depending upon your tumor as well as the anatomy of the blood vessels, you may undergo two treatment
sessions. Each session is separated by 2-4 weeks.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF THE PROCEDURE?
While Yttrium 90 is not a cure, it does increase the life expectancy in 50% of the patients.
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WHAT ARE THE POTENTIAL COMPLICATIONS OF THE PROCEDURE?
No procedure is without risk. The risks for Yttrium 90 to the liver include all the risks associated with an
arteriogram. These risks are rare, but include bleeding, infection, kidney failure requiring dialysis, loss of
limb, and a reaction to the contrast agent, to name a few. In addition to the risks associated with a routine
arteriogram, the risks associated with chemoembolization are:
1. Post embolization syndrome (frequent) –Post embolization syndrome describes a group of
symptoms that are “flu-like” (pain, fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, and “achy joints”) that can start a
few hours after the procedure and last one to three weeks;
2. Confusion (rare) –Confusion or decreased awareness in some patients can occur because liver
function is decreased;
3. Injury to the gall bladder (rare) –The chemotherapy and/or the plugging particles may lodge in the
artery feeding blood to the gall bladder. When this happens, the gall bladder may have to be removed;
4. Liver infarction–The area of the liver that contains the tumor and some surrounding areas receive
less blood supply, and may actually die (infarct). In the majority of patients, this does not cause a
5. Liver abscess (less than 5% of patients) –The area of the liver that is embolized may develop an
infected fluid pocket known as an abscess. An abscess may require another procedure or even
surgery, to treat the abscess; or
6. Tumor rupture (rare) –After receiving chemotherapy, tumors swell in size as cells begin to die. The
swelling may result in tumor rupture.
7. Liver failure (less than 5% of patients)–In a small number of patients the liver is takes longer to
recover after altering the blood to the tumors. In these patients, one may notice jaundice (yellow
coloring to skin or eyes), fluid around abdomen or legs or generalized not feeling well.
8. Ulceration of the stomach, small bowel or large intestines (less than 5% of patients) –In a small
number of patients, the Yttrium beads may damage the vessels going to the stomach, small intestines
or large intestines. In this situation, the area may bleedcreating a ulcer.
WHAT DO I NEED TO DO TO PREPARE FOR THE PROCEDURE?
In preparation for the procedure, a biopsy of the tumor may need to be performed to determine the type of
tumor. A CT scan or a MRI will be done to determine the size and location of the tumor, portal vein
blood flow, and for blockage of the bile ducts. A chest CT may be performed to rule out the presence of
a tumor in the lungs. The chest CT will also show fluid or infection that may delay or prevent the
performance of the procedure. Blood tests to determine your liver and kidney function, blood counts, and
tumor markers will be done. An ECG (electrocardiogram) may be required but usually can be done at the
time of the procedure.
The patient will also be seen by Radiation Oncology to determine if you are a candidate for
radiation therapy (Yttrium 90 or external beam).
WHEN SHOULD THE PROCEDURE BE DONE?
The procedure should be done when there are no signs or symptoms of an infection (cough, fever, burning
with urination, or chills). The Yttrium 90 therapy should be done before signs of liver failure are present.
Yttrium 90 should be done before there are tumors in other organs or blood vessels in your body.
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HOW LONG WILL I BE IN THE HOSPITAL?
You will come to the hospital the day of the procedure and can expect to stay overnight. You will be
discharged when you are able to eat solid foods, your pain is controlled by oral medications, and you have
no signs of infection.
HOW LONG WILL THE YTTRIUM 90 PROCEDURE TAKE?
The procedure is a two-three stage procedure. Each procedure usually takes 2-4 hours.
CAN I EAT BEFORE THE PROCEDURE?
You should not eat any solid food 6 hours before prior to the day of the procedure. You can have clear
liquids during the night and morning of the procedure. In fact we encourage you to drink several glasses
of “clear liquids” during the night. If you are diabetic or take other medications on a regular basis let us
know so that we can adjust your medications as necessary.
WHAT DO I DO ABOUT MY MEDICATIONS?
Most medications do not need to be stopped or held before the procedure. However, medications such as
glucophage and insulin sometimes do need to be adjusted. The insulin dose is adjusted for the morning
dose. Glucophage will be held for 2 days before and 2 days after the procedure. Any elevation in blood
sugar will be managed with insulin during those 2 days. High blood pressure medications should be
taken as usual. If you are on a blood thinner (heparin or coumadin), it will need to be withheld for several
days prior to the procedure. If you have an allergy to contrast dye (IVP or X-ray dye), please let us
know so that we can prescribe a medication to reduce your risk of a “dye” reaction.
WHERE DO I COME THE DAY OF THE PROCEDURE?
Interventional Radiology is located on the first floor of the new hospital in the Expansion Wing at the
University of Virginia in Charlottesville. The phone number is 434-924-9401.
WHAT DOES THE EMBOLIZATION PROCEDURE ITSELF INVOLVE?
Upon your arrival in the department, a nurse will accompany you to the recovery area. The nurse will
help you change into a hospital gown and then start an IV line. Any necessary blood work will be done.
The IV allows us to give you medications to help you relax and decrease any discomfort that you may
have during the procedure. The IV will also allow us to give you antibiotics as well as medications to
decrease the nausea and pain associated with the procedure.
A physician or nurse practitioner will meet with you to complete your history and physical
examination, explain the procedure, and ask you to sign an informed consent form.
A nurse and X-ray tech will take you to a special procedure suite, where the evaluation for the
Yttrium 90 procedure will be performed. After placing you on the x-ray table, your groin areas will be
cleaned with a special soap and you will be covered with sterile drapes. A physician will numb the area
of your groin and insert a small needle into your artery. A small tube, called a catheter, will then be
inserted into the artery in your groin. The catheter will be positioned to allow us to see the arteries
supplying your liver and the tumor within your liver. Pictures will be taken using a small amount of
contrast dye. After the physician has located the arteries to be blocked, the physician will use the special
x-ray equipment in the room to take some “CT-like” pictures of the liver to better see the tumors. After
the pictures, he will inject a protein marker into the artery of the tumor. This marker is the very similar in
size as the beads used in the Yttrium 90 therapy. Once the physician has placed the marker into the
arteries, you will be returned to the recovery room. The catheter in your groin will be removed and
pressure will be placed on the artery in your groin. You will be moved to Nuclear Medicine where you
will be placed under a special camera to show where the protein marker is in your body. The hope is that
4 of 6 YTTRIUM 90 MICROSPHERES THERAPY OF LIVER TUMORS
the marker is in your liver with a very small amount in your bowels. If the marker leaks to your lungs or
there is a large amount in your bowels you will not be a candidate for the Yttrium 90 procedure. You
will be observed for a brief period of time in the recovery room before you go to your regular hospital
room. You will be discharged either later that day or early the next day.
Once the arteriogram and the nuclear medicine scan are completed, the interventional radiologist
(the doctor who did the arteriogram), a radiation oncologist and a radiation physicist (determines the dose
of the Yttrium 90) will meet to determine if you can have the procedure. If it is decided that you are a
candidate for the procedure, the team of doctors will find a date for to return for the Yttrium 90 therapy.
This is usually 2-4 weeks after the first procedure.
At the time of the second procedure, the process is repeated. This time the team will place the
Yttrium 90 microspheres in your liver tumor. At the time of this procedure, the team may need to block
small arteries to your stomach or bowels to control the leakage of the beads to your stomach or bowels.
This procedure will take about 2 – 3 hours. You will again return to Nuclear Medicine and be placed
under the special camera to look for leakage outside your liver.
In some cases, the process will be repeated for the other side of liver. This is usually done about
2-4 weeks after the placement of the Yttrium 90 microspheres.
WHAT CAN I EXPECT AFTER THE PROCEDURE?
You will be admitted to a hospital bed on a regular nursing unit where someone will monitor your blood
pressure, heart rate, temperature and pulse at frequent intervals. They will also check the puncture site in
your groin area for any signs of bleeding or bruising. You will also receive instructions on what to do if
you have to cough, sneeze or vomit.
You will be on strict bedrest for several hours after the procedure. After that time, the head of
your bed can be raised slightly. You should not get out of bed until either later that day or around 7:00
AM the next day. When you can get out of bed you should take it easy.
Some patients complain of pain in the upper right area of the abdomen (belly) as well as nausea after the
procedure. The doctors will order a pain medicine that can be given to you in your IV. The pain usually
decreases over the next 24-48 hours. Before going home, the physician will change the medications to a
medicine that you can take by mouth.
The doctors will also order medicines to help control any nausea the patient may have. The nausea, when
it occurs, usually decreases over the next 24-48 hours.
It is common for you to have “flu-like” symptoms for 1-2 weeks after the procedure. Mild fever,
nausea, aching and pain can usually be managed with medications. Many patients complain of low
energy for up to 3 weeks after the procedure.
It is common for your appetite to be decreased after the procedure. However, for effective
healing to occur, there must be good nutrition and hydration. Please try to drink at least 8 glasses of
fluids each day. If regular foods do not appeal to you, try one of the nutritional supplements on the
market (ensure, sustacal, etc.) to supplement your diet.
WHEN SHOULD I CALL MY PHYSICIAN?
Some patients experience “flu-like” symptoms after the procedure. The symptoms go away over a period
of 1-2 weeks, although mild symptoms may persist for longer. However, you need to contact your
primary physician or us for:
1. a temperature greater than 101 degrees and /or chills;
2. persistent pain, not relieved by the prescribed pain medications;
3. persistent nausea and vomiting; or
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4. the development of confusion or jaundice.
5. change in stool color
6. change in urine color especially if the urine becomes “tea-colored”.
7. blood in stool or vomit.
If you notice bleeding or a bruise growing around the puncture site in your groin, place pressure on the
groin and have someone call Interventional Radiology at 1-434-924-9401 between 8:00 A.M. and 5:00
P.M., and ask for the physician on call. Between 5:00 P.M. and 8:00 A.M., call 1-434-924-0000 and ask
for the physician on call for Interventional Radiology. Please give the operator your name and your
phone number. Otherwise, you should call an ambulance and go to the nearest Emergency Room.
WHAT IS THE FOLLOW-UP SCHEDULE FOR YTTRIUM 90 MICROSPHERES OF LIVER
Currently we are requesting patients have the following:
1. Blood work approximately one week after discharge from the hospital. This can be done at your local
2. A CT scan of the abdomen done at 4 weeks after the procedure;
3. Blood work to check liver function and tumor markers at 4 weeks;
4. Follow-up office visits by your primary physician or surgeon and the Interventional Radiologist at
UVA at 4 weeks;
5. In most instances, a repeat session at chemoembolization at 4 weeks; and
6. The tumor’s response and your health will determine the need for further follow-up visits (at 3 and 6
DOES INSURANCE PAY FOR YTTRIUM 90 MICROSPHERES?
Each insurance policy is different. At the time that we are contacted to evaluate you for Yttrium 90
therapy we will contact your insurance company to determine if they will pay. In some cases insurance
will deny. If a denial occurs you may be told to appeal the denial. We will receive a copy of the denial
letter. If the letter instructs us to appeal, we will send a letter of appeal.
If you have further questions, please call 434-924-9401 and ask to speak to one of the nurse practitioners
in Interventional Radiology.
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