Breakthrough chemotherapy treatment performed in UK

Although it claims hundreds of thousands of lives per year in the United States alone, cancer is, in many cases, a treatable disease. There are, however, still significant challenges for patients who are undergoing cancer treatment, and one of the most difficult is that cancer treatments are toxic to healthy tissues as well as to cancerous tumors. However, a new technique for administering chemotherapy being pioneered in the United Kingdom could prove advantageous for decreasing the risks associated with cancer treatment.

At the Southampton General Hospital, doctors treating two patients were confronted with a problem: their patients were afflicted with a rare form of eye cancer that spread to the liver.

Dr. Brian Stedman, a consultant radiologist, told the BBC, “Previously, the outlook for patients specifically suffering from cancer which has spread to the liver has been poor because standard chemotherapy’s effect is limited by the unwanted damage the drug causes to the rest of the body.” These effects include fatigue, nausea, sudden hair loss and other damage to organs and general health.

The solution that was found for this issue was to cut off the liver from the body temporarily and immerse it in chemotherapy drugs, thus minimizing the damage caused by the toxic chemicals. The liver is not removed from the abdomen. Instead, it is cut off from the body’s bloodstream for around 60 minutes with inflated balloons. At that point, the liver is filled with the drugs. Once the operation is finished, the liver is reconnected to the body, but not before the vast majority of the drugs are filtered out of the blood, thus minimizing the effects of the drug on the rest of the body.

“To cut off an organ from the body for 60 minutes, soak it in a high dose of drug and then filter the blood almost completely clean before returning is truly groundbreaking,” said Dr. Stedman.

He also emphasized that this treatment technique was not exclusive to the liver. Though it would be difficult if not impossible to apply to organs like the heart, it could be used with respect to the colon, breast, kidneys, and lungs.

“In 20 years’ time the idea of injecting a drug which poisons the whole body for a cancer in just one small area will seem bonkers” (BBC).

This new option for treatment, officially known as percutaneous hepatic perfusion (PHP), has been tested in the United States, Germany, Ireland, France and Italy for years, and studies are promising significant improvements in patient health. “Results of a recent study in the U.S. showed patients who received PHP survived five times longer before the disease progressed than those who had standard chemotherapy” (Daily Mail).

With one in three people being affected by cancer at some point in their life (CDC), there is an urgency in discovering new methods for combating the spread and fatality of the disease in those who are affected. This new technique and many others are contributing to a sense for cancer victims that it is not only survivable but increasingly easier to treat in many cases.