The liver’s unique ability to “re-grow” after part has been removed offers a significant advantage to patients with liver tumors. In some cases, a patient’s liver tumor may take in a large portion of the organ, making it impossible to remove surgically, because there would be too little healthy liver left behind.
To solve this problem, physicians can stimulate the liver to grow additional tissue before surgery. In order to stimulate the liver’s growth, doctors need to cut off blood supply from one of the liver’s two blood vessels—the portal vein. Because the liver has two separate blood supplies, doctors are able to clot off, or “embolize” the blood supply without damage to the organ’s healthy areas.
To complete the procedure, a needle is passed through the skin into the liver. Using ultrasound or other imaging data, doctors will identify the portion of the blood vessel that is feeding the main part of the tumor and then inject medications that will stop the flow of blood through that vessel. The liver will recognize this lack of blood flow and after several weeks, will have enlarged enough to continue with surgical removal of the tumor(s) and still leave behind enough of the healthy organ for the patient to survive.