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Interventional Radiology

Radiology plays an extremely important role in diagnosing and treating cancer. The Dignity Health – Cancer Institute at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center has a full service radiology department, led by fellowship trained academic subspecialist physician radiologists who advocate for your best interests as the core of their practice. Our department also includes has a team of Interventional Radiology physicians, a medical sub-specialty of radiology utilizing minimally-invasive image-guided procedures to diagnose and treat diseases.

Interventional radiology is a medical specialty in which its trained physicians perform minimally invasive procedures to diagnose and treat various diseases. At Dignity Health – Cancer Institute at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, our interventional radiologists are trained to use image-guided technology such as X-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to place a catheter inside the body to treat a large variety of medical conditions that would have required surgery in the past. As an alternative to open surgery, interventional radiology procedures may reduce risk, pain and recovery time for patients.

When is interventional radiology needed?

Our priority is to treat you with humankindness and provide the most appropriate, least invasive treatments available for your cancer type. Most procedures may be done on an outpatient basis or during a short hospital stay.

We use interventional radiology techniques to deliver cancer-killing radioactive particles, chemotherapy, heat, cold, or even electric fields directly to tumors. Imaging techniques including CT, ultrasound, PET, and MRI help guide these procedures so your doctor can pinpoint the exact area of treatment, minimizing the effect on normal surrounding tissue.

Image-guided procedures have fewer risks for our patients and allow them to recover more quickly compared with surgery. In fact, the majority of patients who have an interventional radiology procedure are able to return home the same day. Also, these procedures don’t require incisions and often can be done with conscious sedation, which means that you don’t have to undergo general anesthesia.

The most common diseases we treat with image-guided techniques include cancers of the lung, liverkidney, and bone. But this is a growing field, and we are exploring its use in treating a variety of other cancer types.


Interventional radiology is a sub-specialty of radiology where minimally invasive procedures are completed using image guidance, such as X-ray, CT scan, or ultrasound. Procedures may be used for both diagnosis and/or treatment.

Interventional Procedures For Cancer Care

Interventional procedures have always been an important part of the care of patients with cancer. They allow an easy way to:

  • Obtain a biopsy
  • Provide vascular access for chemotherapy, and
  • Treat the complications of tumors (i.e. obstruction of ducts, bleeding, fluid collection)
  • Even treat tumors directly

Catheter-delivered therapies use catheters directed through the arteries under X-Ray, directly to the tumor through its own blood supply. This decreases the systemic side effects of the drug while increasing its direct effect on the tumor.

Embolization is the injection of tiny particles into the bloodstream that then travel to the tumor and disrupt its oxygen supply. Embolization works best in the liver because of its unique dual blood supply, but can also be used for other areas such as the kidneys or bones.

Chemo-embolization combines the injection of particles with chemotherapy agents.

Radio-embolization is an injection of millions of tiny spheres carrying radioactive particles. Not only does this cut off the flow of oxygen to the tumor, but also delivers a lethal dose of radiation therapy to inside the tumor. This provides direct treatment to the tumor while minimizing the radiation exposure to the surrounding healthy tissue.

Radio-Frequency Ablation is done by direct placement of special needles into the tumor through the skin, similar to the way a biopsy is performed. Thermal energy by electrical current through the needle is then delivered, killing the tumor cells by heat. Chemical agents, like ethanol, can be injected as well to kill the tumors and enhance the effect of RFA.


Types of interventional radiology

Our interventional radiologists use a variety of techniques to treat cancer. These include ablation (burning or freezing a tumor), embolization (cutting off blood supply to the tumor or targeting it with chemotherapy or radioactivity). Other interventional radiology techniques can relieve pain. For example, vertebroplasty, kyphoplasty, and ablation are three methods we use to help patients with spine and other bony tumors.

Common interventional radiology procedures include:

  • Tumor ablation procedures: These minimally invasive treatments may destroy tissue using extreme temperatures. Ablation may be used to treat tumors or alleviate symptoms. Examples of ablation procedures we perform are radiofrequency ablation and microwave ablation.
  • Liver-directed therapies: We may deliver targeted treatment directly to liver tumors, sparing nearby healthy tissue and reducing some side effects. Some therapies we use to treat liver tumors include Yttrium-90 radioembolization and chemoembolization.
  • Vascular work: Our team uses minimally invasive techniques to place stents, stop bleeding and block the flow of blood to or from tumor tissue to support chemotherapy and radiation therapy response.
  • Drainage catheters: Fluid retention is a common side effect of some types of cancer. Catheters are used to drain excess fluid and relieve uncomfortable symptoms.
  • Port and PICC line placement: Many patients are given temporary ports and PICC lines to minimize the number of needle pricks during chemotherapy treatment or diagnostic blood work.
  • Bone and joint pain management: A variety of bone and joint injections, nerve blocks and fracture management techniques provide relief from pain.
  • Biopsies: An examination of tissue removed from a living body to discover the presence, cause, or extent of a disease.

Multidisciplinary Approach to Cancer Care

Patients of Dignity Health – Cancer Institute at St. Joseph’s know they are receiving precision medicine from a multidisciplinary team of experienced cancer experts.