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Survival Time Doubles

A minimally invasive procedure that delivers chemotherapy directly to cancerous cells may double survival time for adults with colon cancer that has spread to the liver, according to new findings.

The technique, chemoembolization, uses a catheter inserted through a small needle puncture in the groin to deliver chemotherapy drugs to the hepatic artery leading to the tumor. After three drugs are administered, the hepatic artery is embolized, depriving the tumor of oxygen and nutrients while it is saturated with high doses of medication. Chemoembolization, says Michael C. Soulen, MD, of the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, "homes in on the cancerous cells that have spread to the liver and avoids exposing the rest of the body to chemotherapy's toxic effects."

In a study Soulen presented last month at a Society of Cardiovascular and Interventional Radiology meeting in Orlando, Fla, 51 patients whose colon cancer had metastasized to the liver were treated with chemoembolization. Eighty-six percent survived for 1 year after treatment; the average survival time was 2 years. Usually, fewer than half of patients with colon cancer metastatic to the liver survive for 1 year after undergoing systemic chemotherapy.

Chemoembolization lasts about 3 hours, and the average treatment regimen consists of three sessions. "This is not a cure, but it can extend patients' lives and preserve their quality of life," Soulen said.