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Percutaneous Ethanol Injections

Percutaneous ethanol injections are used to treat tumors of the liver. This approach allows an interventional radiologist or other physician to inject pure alcohol through the skin (percutaneous) into a liver tumor. Alcohol draws water out of the tumor’s cells, destroying them. The process may need to be repeated several times to completely destroy tumors. Ethanol injections may be a good option for patients who cannot tolerate or do not qualify for other surgical procedures, and must meet specific criteria for treatment.


The patient must have:

  • Fewer than three liver tumors
  • Well defined with distinct margins
  • Surrounded by a shell of scar tissue
  • Less than 3 cm in diameter
  • Away from the liver’s surface

In addition, patients must not have any signs of chronic liver failure including jaundice (yellow skin) or ascites (the buildup of fluid in the abdomen).


The most common complications that arise from percutaneous ethanol injections involve leakage of alcohol from the tumor into the abdominal space. Contact with other structures can cause pain and fever. Doctors should also take care to identify all blood vessels and bile ducts near the tumor to avoid damage to, or leakage from the ducts during treatment.