BACKGROUND: Patients with advanced metastatic carcinoid tumors who have disease progression despite conventional therapy are left with few therapeutic options. Hepatic artery chemoembolization (HACE) may play a role in palliating these patients' symptoms. METHODS: Fifteen patients with biopsy-proven advanced bilobar hepatic carcinoid metastases who demonstrated progression of symptoms and/or tumor size despite treatment with somatostatin analogues were treated with intra-arterial chemotherapy and HACE to determine efficacy and safety. Five days of intra-arterial 5-fluorouracil (1 g/m2) were followed by HACE with adriamycin (60 mg), cisplatin (100 mg), mitomycin C (30 mg), and polyvinyl alcohol (Ivalon); 200μ to 710 μ). Patients were continued on octreotide at the same dose (150 to 2000 μg subcutaneous q 8 hours) before, during, and after the procedure. RESULTS: Efficacy of treatment was assessed by comparing pretreatment and 3-month clinical, laboratory, radiographic, and quality of life parameters. Symptoms were improved in 8 of 12 patients who had diarrhea, 7 of 12 who had flushing, 9 of 12 who had abdominal pain, and in 4 of 7 who had malaise. Elevated tumor markers decreased in all patients. Biochemical markers (mean ± SE) at 3 months decreased by 60% ± 6% for 5-HIAA, 75% ± 10% for chromogranin A and 50% ± 7% for neuron-specific enolase. Tomographic assessment revealed tumor liquefaction in 10 of 13 patients. The Karnofsky performance status improved from a mean of 66 ± 2 to 84 ± 2 (P <0.001). Median follow-up was 16 months, with 13 deaths occurring from I week to 71 months after treatment. CONCLUSIONS: Hepatic artery chemoembolization improves symptoms of carcinoid syndrome, has a high tumor response rate, and improves short-term quality of life in this group of patients with advanced hepatic carcinoid disease.