Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM)


An arteriovenous malformation (AVM) is when a group of blood vessels form incorrectly in the body. They can develop anywhere but are most common in the brain.

Radiation Therapy and Arteriovenous Malformation

The best person to talk to about radiation therapy for arteriovenous malformation is a radiation oncologist. A radiation oncologist is a specialist doctor who is part of the team that takes care of people having radiation therapy.

You can ask your doctor for a referral to a radiation oncologist to learn if radiation therapy is an option for you.

The Treatment Team

Doctors make a treatment plan for each person based on the:

  • type of AVM
  • size of the AVM
  • position of the AVM is and if there has been bleeding
  • what other treatments have been tried
  • person’s age and health.

The type of treatment a person gets is worked out by a team of doctors and health professionals often called a Multidisciplinary Team.

A highly trained radiation oncology team takes care of people having radiation therapy. This includes radiation oncologists, radiation therapists, medical physicists and radiation oncology nurses.

Treatment for Arteriovenous Malformations

Treatments focus on reducing the risk of rupture and bleeding.

Surgery: This is useful if someone has already had a bleed from their AVM and there’s a chance it could happen again. However, surgery depends on where the AVM is. If the doctor can’t safely reach it during surgery, then other treatments are used.

Endovascular Embolisation: This is when a catheter is inserted into an artery in the groin and threaded through the blood vessels right up to the brain.

The catheter is put in one of the arteries that feed into the AVM and blocks it with a coil or glue-like substance, which means blood can’t flow through the AVM.

This is a good option if operating isn’t safe. This treatment can also be used before surgery or radiation therapy to shrink an AVM and reduce the risk of bleeding.

Radiation Therapy: This is when high-energy x-rays are targeted on the AVM

Types of Radiation Therapy Used for Arteriovenous Malformation

Stereotactic Radiation Therapy and Radiosurgery (SRS):
During this treatment, x-ray beams are focused on an AVM. This changes the blood vessel walls and causes scarring. The scarred blood vessels slowly dissolve in the years after treatment.

During the time it takes for the blood vessels to close there is still a risk of bleeding and people are watched closely by their doctor.

Stereotactic radiosurgery treatment is usually done in one session. Stereotactic Radiation Therapy is done over a few sessions on different days.

During treatment, people wear a mask to keep their head still.

Immobilisation Mask

People wear a mask during radiation treatment to keep their head and neck still. The mask ensures the radiation beams target the cancer accurately while minimising exposure to healthy body parts nearby.

A new mask is made for each person and is secured to the treatment table. The mask helps the doctor position the radiation accurately on the cancer being treated.

In this video, Targeting Cancer ambassador Julie McCrossin explains why people with head and neck cancer need to wear protective masks during treatment.

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In this video, Julie and the Radiation Oncology team explain how an immobilisation mask is made.

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Targeting Cancer Julie’s Story- The Making of the Immobilisation Mask

The success of radiation therapy depends on the size and location of an AVM and the dose.

For AVMs that are 3cm or smaller the success rate at 3 years is around 70-80%. For larger ones, the success rate varies between 30-70%.

General Information About Side Effects of Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy is more effective with fewer side effects than ever before. 

Recent advances mean radiation oncologists can effectively treat the cancer while getting less radiation on healthy body parts. This means much fewer side effects.

Side effects from radiation therapy vary between people, even for those having the same treatment. With palliative radiation therapy the side effects are very mild as radiation oncologists use a low dose of radiation. 

While some people feel no side effects, some feel mild side effects, such as tiredness or skin redness during and/or just after treatment. These usually get better within a few weeks.

The treatment team will offer advice and medicine to help. People who feel unwell in the stomach during treatment can take an anti-nausea tablet to help. 

Side effects that start later (months to years after the palliative radiation therapy) are rare.

Before starting treatment, your radiation oncologist will talk to you about side effects and answer your questions.

The side effects of radiation treatment can be split into 2 groups: 

  1. Early side effects which occur during and shortly after radiation treatment.
  2. Late effects which can occur months to years after radiation treatment.

For more information, go to the Potential Side Effects page.

Side effects during or soon after treatment: Most people won’t feel side effects during stereotactic radiation therapy. However, some people may have a headache or feel unwell.

Side effects well after treatment: Side effects sometimes happen a few months to a few years after treatment. These side effects may occur once, continue over time, or come and go.

These side effects may never occur, occur once, continue over time, or come and go.

The chances of side effects depend on how much radiation is used and how close the AVM is to other parts of your body.

Find additional information about cancer types, research groups, and support groups.

Further Information
You can ask your Surgeon or General Practitioner for a referral to a Radiation Oncologist for a discussion about whether radiation therapy is a suitable treatment option for you.

Radiation Oncologist

The best person to talk to is a radiation oncologist. You can ask your doctor for a referral to find out if radiation treatment is right for you.

GPs and Health Professionals

Information for any health professional involved in a patient's cancer care with a particular focus on primary care providers.

Talking to Your Doctor

Your GP or other doctors in the cancer team can organise a referral to a radiation oncologist.

Treatment Centres

Search and find your closest Radiation Oncology Treatment Centre.

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