Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Treatment Offers Hope for Liver Cancer Patients; the Nonsurgical Radiation Procedure Can Help Some People Live Longer

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Treatment Offers Hope for Liver Cancer Patients; the Nonsurgical Radiation Procedure Can Help Some People Live Longer

Article excerpt


For most patients grappling with liver cancer, it's not about beating the disease, but learning to live with it.

A radiation-based procedure being offered by Baptist Health doesn't claim to cure the cancer -- just give those with the illness a shot at a longer and perhaps more comfortable life.

Baptist offers the procedure, called Selective Internal Radiation Therapy, which can shrink a liver tumor by 50 percent and limit damage to surrounding tissue.

The Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville also plans to offer the therapy, which can cost up to $75,000 and is covered by insurance, in the next couple of months.

The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 18,000 people in the United States will be diagnosed with cancer of the liver in 2006. There were more than 1,000 newly diagnosed liver cancer cases in Florida in 2003, according to the Florida Department of Health.

The therapy involves implanting radiation particles -- microscopic radioactive balls -- into the hepatic artery via a catheter using a syringe. The danger of damage to normal tissue is low because radiation particles delivered through the hepatic artery go almost exclusively to the tumor, said Tim Daniel, an interventional radiologist who practices at Baptist Medical Center.

The reason: Tumors in the liver get the blood they need to survive mainly from the hepatic artery, which is in the right upper abdomen.

"We're using a tumor characteristic against itself," Daniel said. "The tumor has a very high blood flow demand because it is growing very quickly. We are infusing these particles through the blood system so that they get sucked up by the tumor."

Through this procedure, the radiation concentration around the tumor is up to 30 times the amount that can safely be delivered by conventional external beam radiation, Daniel said.

Selective Internal Radiation Therapy, which is typically used in combination with chemotherapy, is targeted at liver cancer patients for whom surgery is not an option. It is especially suitable for those with colorectal cancer or hepatocellular cancer, a rare consequence of chronic hepatitis infection.

Unlike some alternative treatments such as chemoembolization -- a procedure that delivers chemotherapy directly to the liver through the hepatic artery, and requires two to three days of hospitalization -- Selective Internal Radiation Therapy is done on an outpatient basis and has fewer side effects.

By the time Susan Tomassetti's cancer was diagnosed in November, the disease that began in her colon had spread to her liver.

After five months of chemotherapy, which left her "mildly tired," Tomassetti underwent Selective Internal Radiation Therapy last week.

The Fernandina Beach resident said she won't know how effective the therapy has been until her liver is tested in about three months. …

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