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New liver cancer treatment shows promise

March 31, 2009 1:05:28 PM PDT
An experimental treatment for liver cancer is showing promise in studies at the National Institutes of Health and ten hospitals nationwide. A Southern California man is among the patients trying the new therapy.Bill Darker of Imperial Beach, has flown to the NIH in suburban Washington, D.C., three times for the procedure. A "superdose" of chemotherapy, 10 times higher than patients can usually tolerate, is dripped directly into his liver. Doctors then work through small puncture holes to seal off Darker's liver, and flush most of the toxic medication from his blood so it does not poison the rest of his body.

"I've always wanted to treat this cancer very aggressively since I know the prognosis is very dim," 46-year-old Darker told the Associated Press.

Prior to his latest round of treatment, Darker's liver tumors had shrunk by a third.

Each year in the United States, more than 200,000 people learn that various types of cancer have metastasized, or spread, to the liver. Once that happens, survival is rarely longer than a year or two.

The study of the new treatment, called percutaneous hepatic perfusion, or PHP, aims to determine whether the shrinkage of tumors, like that experienced by Bill Darker, makes a significant difference in the length and quality of patients' lives.

"It seems like a good weapon," Dr. Marybeth Hughes of the NIH's National Cancer Institute told the AP.

"If it works effectively, it would be very important, because the only other choice patients have is constant chemotherapy," she said.

More testing also remains to be done to determine the safety of the treatment before it could be submitted to the Food and Drug Administration for approval.


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