While interventional oncology (IO) is a relatively young field, its history spans many decades. Born out of the specialty of interventional radiology (IR), IO encompasses the rapid growth in the use of minimally invasive techniques to treat cancer and manage its symptoms. As IR arose in the mid-20th century, interventional radiologists began exploring these minimally-invasive applications in cancer. Early studies were published in the 1950’s and 1960’s, assessing blood supply to tumors (1) and preliminary data on the value of angiographic techniques to deliver these precise treatments to cancer cells (2).
In the 1970’s, catheter embolization, an interventional technique used to stop blood flow to tumors, demonstrated the ability of these procedures to treat solid tumors in the liver, kidney, skeleton, and other organs (3,4) in patients who may not have been optimal candidates for surgical procedures. In the 1980’s, chemoembolization and other therapeutic agents were adopted for treatment for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Thermal ablative technologies such as radiofrequency ablation, microwave ablation, and cryoablation are now standard practice treating tumors in the lung, liver, kidney, and musculoskeletal system. Non-thermal technologies using electrical pulses including irreversible electroporation and pulsed electrical fields can be applied in thermally sensitive areas, while magnetic resonance (MR)- or ultrasound (US)-guided high intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) and histotripsy are completely non-invasive approaches.
Over the last four decades, the combination of research and increasingly sophisticated technology have made it possible for multiple IO therapies to emerge and demonstrate effectiveness in treating many cancer types. Together with other specialists in oncology – medical, surgical, and radiation – interventional oncologists play a critical role on the cancer care team, treating patients in clinics, hospitals, and serving on tumor boards and multidisciplinary treatment teams (5).