New approach targets liver cancer with chemo, spares rest of body

It can start as skin, lung or bone cancer. But when it's not stopped early, many cancers spread to the liver.

Traditionally, once the disease hits the liver, patients are given less than a year to live. But a new experimental approach is blasting the organ with chemo while sparing the rest of the body.

It's a story made for the movies.

Retired Navy fighter pilot Chris "Boomer" Wilson was one of the inspirations behind "Top Gun." Now, he's an inspiration for cancer patients everywhere.

Chris was diagnosed with melanoma which spread to his liver.

"I knew enough about melanoma to know that if it metastasized I was in big trouble," says Chris. "I was originally given a prognosis of 3 to 9 months."

He sought out Dr. Mark Faries who was experimenting with a new treatment called percutaneous hepatic perfusion.

"PHP is a treatment that allows us to give very high doses of chemotherapy, but keep them largely confined to the liver," says Dr. Faries, an associate member of the John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, CA.

Dr. Faries uses catheters to deliver 10 times the normal amount of chemo directly to the liver. Two balloons block the chemo from flowing through the rest of the body. The blood that does touch the chemo is filtered out, cleansed and pumped back in.

"So we can use enough chemotherapy to actually kill the tumor. The other advantage is it spares the rest of the body much of the exposure," says Dr. Faries.

In one study, nearly 80 percent of patients saw their tumors shrink or stabilize. After three treatments, Chris's tumors shrank by more than 60 percent, and doctors say what's left is fading.

"It's like someone tells you you're going to die in a month, and then the next day the same guy comes to you and says no you're not, false start," says Chris.

A high-flying adrenaline seeker, who's now enjoying life's simple pleasures.

The PHP is in the final phase of testing. Traditional treatment for metastatic liver cancer includes surgery and IV chemotherapy. But Dr. Faries says the success rate for those treatments is about ten percent.

REPORT: MB #3126

BACKGROUND: The liver is one of the largest organs in the body and is essential for overall health. The liver removes harmful material from the blood, aids in digestion of food and converts food into nutrients. When cancer originates in or spreads to the liver, it can be deadly. When cancer originates in the liver it is referred to as primary liver cancer. Cancer that spreads to the liver from other parts of the body is metastatic cancer of the liver. Colorectal cancer and melanoma are two examples of cancer that frequently spread to the liver. An estimated 245,000 new cases of liver cancer are diagnosed every year in the U.S., and nearly 225,000 are metastatic cancers.

TRADITIONAL TREATMENT: Right now, cancer in the liver can only be cured by surgery before it has spread to other parts of the body. While IV treatments are available, doctors say they are only successful about 10 percent of the time. A chemotherapy medicine called melphalan is used to treat patients but carries serious side effects. Other treatments may be able to slow the growth of tumors and help patients feel better, but cancer of the liver is hard to control.

PHP CLINICAL TRIAL: Doctors are now experimenting with Peripheral Hepatic Perfusion (PHP) to treat liver tumors. The treatment utilizes three catheters to isolate the liver and deliver targeted chemotherapy directly to the liver instead of throughout the body. "One catheter goes into the hepatic artery, the blood vessel that brings blood directly into the liver, and that's the catheter through which we give the chemotherapy," Mark Faries, M.D., associate member of the John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, Calif., told Ivanhoe. "There's a second catheter that is placed in the main vein that lies directly behind the liver through which all the blood from the liver drains. That catheter has two balloons on it. One balloon goes above where those veins come in, and one that goes below, so that all of that blood is contained within that one segment of the larger vein. Then all of that blood that is draining from the liver passes out through that catheter outside of the body. Filters remove the vast majority of the chemotherapy from the blood, and that cleansed blood is filtered back into the body through a third catheter in the jugular vein in the neck."

In one study, nearly 80 percent of patients saw their tumors shrink or stabilize using PHP. "We've seen a lot of patients who have had very, very advanced disease who have had tremendous responses," said Dr. Faries.

PHP is in the final phases of testing, and is not FDA approved. For more information on the clinical trial, you can contact the National Cancer Institute clinical hotline at 1-888-NCI-1937.

Dr. Mark Faries
John Wayne Cancer Institute
Los Angeles, CA
(310) 582-7020

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