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Advanced Techniques in Angiomyolipoma Embolization : A Review of Non-Embolization Approaches

  1. Introduction

    1. What is Angiomyolipoma?

      Angiomyolipoma (AML) is a benign tumor that affects the kidneys. It is composed of 3 types of tissue which include blood vessels, smooth muscle cells, and fat cells. AMLs are rare and represent 1-3% of solid renal tumors.(1)

      AMLs are almost always benign and may vary in size and appearance. It is seen occurring in people with a genetic disorder called tuberous sclerosis complex, but can also occur in people without it.

      AMLs are detected incidentally during medical imaging tests. It may cause symptoms including pain and bleeding. This happens when the tumor grows large or ruptures.

      There are various treatment options for AML depending on various factors including embolization, surgical resection, or non -embolization approaches such as ablation techniques. Regular monitoring is often recommended to track the growth and potential complications of AMLs.

    2. Importance of AML Embolization as Treatment Modality

      AML embolization is an important treatment modality for the following reasons. 

      • It can preserve kidney function. It can reduce the blood supply to the AML and lead to shrinkage of tumors and preserve kidney function.
      • It controls bleeding by blocking the blood vessel supplying the tumor.
      • It is a minimally invasive procedure and an alternative to surgery.
      • It is a repeatable and tailored treatment approach that can be adjusted according to individual needs.
      • It can be an alternative to nephron-sparing surgery. Embolization can be used as a preoperative strategy to reduce the size of the tumor and preserve as much healthy kidney tissue as possible.

      AML embolization has significantly improved patient outcomes and expanded treatment possibilities for individuals with AML.(6)

    3. Need for Non-Embolization Approaches in AML Management

      AML embolization is an effective treatment modality, but there is still a need for non-embolization approaches in AML management for several reasons. 

      • Not all patients with AML are suitable candidates for embolization. Non-embolization treatment options provide alternatives for patients allowing personalized and tailored care.
      • AMLs less than 4 cm have a lower risk of complications and may remain asymptomatic. In such cases, embolization may not be necessary. Here, non-embolization approaches can be utilized to manage symptoms and treat complications.
      • Embolization procedures may be difficult for AMLs at anatomically inaccessible locations such as near the hilum or adjacent to major blood vessels. Non-embolization approaches such as ablation techniques offer alternative methods to target and treat these tumors.
      • Despite embolization, AMLs may recur or leave residual tumor tissue. Here non-embolization approaches such as thermal ablation or cryoablation can be employed to directly destroy the remaining tumor.
      • Embolization is generally safe but may carry the risk of complications such as pain, post-embolization syndrome, renal infarction, or damage to the surrounding structures.(2) Alternative treatment approaches can be helpful in avoiding these complications.
  2. Embolization Techniques for AML

    1. Conventional Embolization Methods

      Embolization techniques are most commonly used for the treatment of angiomyolipoma (AML).  The main goal of this treatment is to block the blood vessel that supplies the tumor, causing shrinkage and symptom relief.

      Commonly used embolization techniques include: 

      • Arterial Embolization: This is the widely used technique and involves accessing the blood vessels supplying the tumor through a catheter inserted into the femoral artery in the groin. Then embolic agents such as polyvinyl alcohol particles or microspheres are delivered into arteries, which then occlude or cut the blood supply to the AML.
      • Selective Arterial Embolization: This involves partial occlusion of the blood vessel supplying the AML. This allows blood flow to be maintained while reducing the tumor size. This technique is used when complete embolization of the tumor poses a risk of complications such as renal infarction.(3)
      • Micro-Embolization: It involves using smaller embolic agents such as microspheres or small PVA particles to target the blood vessels feeding the capillaries. These tiny embolic agents reach smaller vessels and capillaries for precise and localized embolization.
      • Coil Embolization: Coils are small metallic devices that can be inserted into the blood vessels supplying the AML. They create obstruction and disrupt the blood flow to the tumor. Coil embolization is mostly used in combination with other embolic agents for optimal results.
      • Liquid Embolic Agents: Sometimes liquid embolic agents are used for embolization. These polymerize upon contact with a blood-forming solid mass within the blood vessels, effectively blocking the blood supply.
      • Onyx Embolization: Onyx is a liquid embolic agent that is commonly used in complex AML cases. It allows for controlled delivery and penetration into the tumor, leading to more effective and durable embolization.

      The selection of an embolic agent depends on the patient’s specific needs and goals aiming to achieve optimal tumor control while preserving the kidney function.

    2. Advantages and Limitations of Embolization Techniques

      Embolization is an outpatient procedure that requires no hospitalization. This reduces the healthcare cost. Along with this, the other advantages include:(4)

      • Kidney preservation
      • It is minimally invasive
      • Reduced risk of complications
      • Allows targeted treatment

      The limitations of the embolization technique include: 

      • Embolization effectively reduces the risk of tumor but there are chances of recurrence and regrowth.
      • The procedure has complications associated with it.
      • There is limited access to deep tumors
      • The technique is ineffective for small AML.
  3. Non-Embolization Approaches for AML Management

    Non-embolization approaches are alternative treatment options that can be used instead of embolization, not in conjunction with it.

    These approaches aim to directly destroy the AML without relying on the occlusion of the blood vessels.

    Some of the common non-embolization approaches include: 

    • Ablation Techniques: This involves radiofrequency ablation and microwave ablation.

    In radiofrequency ablation electric currents are delivered through a needle-like electrode inserted into the tumor. In microwave ablation electromagnetic waves generate heat and electricity and destroy tumor tissue. It offers faster heating and larger ablation zones compared to radiofrequency ablation.

    • Cryoablation: Cryoablation involves the insertion of a probe that freezes and destroys the tumor tissue. It is effective for smaller tumors and can be repeated if necessary.
    • High-Intensity Focused Ultrasound (HIFU): It uses focused ultrasound waves to generate heat and destroy the tumor tissue without the need for incision or invasive procedures. HIFU is particularly suitable for smaller AMLs and those located in difficult-to-reach areas.
    • Targeted Molecular Therapies: These aim to inhibit pathways or molecular targets involved in AML growth and progression. It includes medication that targets mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin) such as sirolimus or everolimus.(5) Targeted molecular therapies, such as mTOR inhibitors, are primarily used in cases of AML associated with tuberous sclerosis complex.

    In some cases of AML watchful waiting or active surveillance should be adopted, which involves monitoring the tumor through imaging tests to assess growth and development of symptoms.

    The choice of non-embolization procedures depends on various factors, including the size and location of the AML, patient characteristics, and the expertise of the healthcare team. A multidisciplinary approach is needed which involves a urologist, interventional radiologist, and oncologist, who can determine the most appropriate non-embolization treatment option for each patient.

  4. Conclusion

    The choice of treatment depends on various factors, including the specific characteristics of the AML, patient preferences, and the expertise of the healthcare team.

    Non-embolization techniques play a crucial role in AML management. It includes addressing specific patient factors, tumor characteristics, and preference.

    The choice of treatment is mostly dependent on the individual patient factors, tumor characteristics, and expertise of the healthcare team.

    Continued research and advancements in both embolization and non-embolization techniques are needed to refine treatment strategies, improve outcomes, and further personalize AML management. With a comprehensive and tailored approach, AML can benefit from effective and individualized treatment options. This can be helpful in optimal tumor control, symptom relief, and preservation of kidney function.

Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:July 10, 2023

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