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New liver cancer treatment performed in the UK

Doctors have become the first in the UK to treat liver cancer by isolating the organ for chemotherapy
WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks
female researcher

12th November 2012 - A medical team from Southampton have become the first in the UK to treat cancer in the liver by isolating the organ from the rest of the body and 'bathing' it in chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy medication targets cancer cells, but it also attacks other parts of the body. Doctors from University Hospital Southampton say that targeting one organ can reduce unwanted side effects.

Direct chemo to the liver

The procedure has been performed by Dr Brian Stedman, a consultant interventional radiologist at Southampton General Hospital. It involves using two small balloons to divert blood past the liver for an hour while delivering chemotherapy treatment directly in to the organ.

The procedure is known as chemosaturation therapy or percutaneous hepatic perfusion (PHP) and allows doctors to administer much larger doses than patients would receive with standard chemotherapy as it does not enter the bloodstream and damage healthy parts of the body.

Once the drug has been delivered, blood from the liver is drained from the patient and processed through a filtration machine to reduce toxicity before being returned to the patient via the jugular vein.

Results of a recent study in the US showed patients who received PHP survived five times longer before the disease - metastatic melanoma - progressed than those who had standard chemotherapy.

'Landmark moment'

Dr Stedman, who has used the method to treat two patients with liver cancer which has spread from the eye, called the development a "landmark moment" in cancer care.

In a statement he says: "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.

"Previously, the outlook for patients specifically suffering from cancer which has spread to the liver has been poor because standard chemotherapies effect is limited by the unwanted damage the drug causes to the rest of the body."

The technique has previously been used in Germany, Italy, Ireland and France, but this is the first time that it has been performed in the UK.

Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, says in an emailed comment: "This is an interesting approach to treating melanoma of the eye that has spread to the liver. But it is still very early in its development and it's not yet clear whether this treatment will help patients live longer.

"It is important that careful research is carried out to find out how well it really works."

Reviewed on November 12, 2012

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