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Fighting Liver Cancer
Featured

30 March 2015   Roxanne Hull

New treatment for liver cancer has been introduced at YRMC.

A procedure that fights liver cancer and advanced cancer that has spread to the liver was recently introduced at Yavapai Regional Medical Center (YRMC).

“Chemoembolization is a proven treatment. There are years of data that demonstrate it can stop or shrink tumors in the liver,” said Ben Paxton, MD, Vascular and Interventional Radiologist, YRMC. 

This is positive news for people with liver cancer or cancer that has metastasized (spread) to the liver. In about two-thirds of cases treated, chemoembolization can stop liver tumors from growing or cause the tumors to shrink, according to the American College of Radiology (ACR) and the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

Chemoembolization combines anti-cancer drugs with an embolic agent to attack the cancer on two fronts. First, it delivers a high concentration of the drug therapy directly to the liver. This helps spare most of the liver’s healthy tissue. Second, the embolic agent – which includes small, synthetic particles – both blocks the blood supply to the tumor and traps the chemotherapy drugs in the tumor. This deprives the tumor of oxygen and nutrients to stop growth. It also delivers a high dose of anti-cancer drugs to the tumor for a longer period of time.

“This procedure can be done in combination with other types of chemotherapy,” said Dr. Paxton, who studied chemoembolization during a fellowship at Duke University School of Medicine. 

How does chemoembolization work? Dr. Paxton – or his colleague, Vascular and Interventional Radiologist Matthew Dicker, MD – use imaging technology to guide a thin catheter into the liver. The physicians then take a series of x-rays that reveal the branches of the arteries that lead to the tumor. Once the catheter is positioned in the correct arteries, the physicians inject anti-cancer drugs and embolic agents. Because only a small skin incision is necessary for the 60-minute procedure, it’s called “non-invasive.” 

“Patients spend the night at YRMC West after chemoembolization for observation, which makes it even more important that this procedure is now available at YRMC,” Dr. Paxton said. “When people are dealing with significant illness, they need to be closer to home and near their loved ones.”

The availability of chemoembolization at YRMC also simplifies follow-up for people of western Yavapai County. Dr. Paxton recommends a CT scan or MRI of the liver every three months following chemoembolization to monitor how much the tumors have shrunk and to check for new tumor growth.

Chemoembolization can be repeated multiple times over the course of many years if necessary. If a second chemoembolization is necessary for optimal treatment, the average time to this second procedure is between 10 and 14 months, according to ACR and RSNA.In addition to primary liver cancer, chemoembolization is used to treat cancer that has spread to the liver as a result of:

  •  colon cancer
  •  breast cancer
  •  ocular melanoma (cancer found in or around the eye)
  •  carcinoid tumors (tumors that occur in the digestive tract or pancreas)
  •  islet cell tumors of the pancreas 
  •  sarcomas (cancer that develops in certain tissues, like bone or muscle)
  •  vascular primary tumors 

For more information about chemoembolization, contact Vascular and Interventional Specialists of Prescott at (928) 771-8477.