Landmark liver cancer treatment increases survival in almost 90% of patients

Chemosaturation therapy – in which blood is bypassed by the liver before being soaked in liquid chemotherapy drugs – is being developed at Southampton University Hospital

A process known as chemosaturation is being developed in the UK at Southampton University Hospital
A process known as chemosaturation is being developed in the UK at Southampton University Hospital

A new treatment for liver cancer, in which the organ is isolated and ‘bathed’ in chemotherapy, has been shown to be effective in almost 90% of patients.

Introduced in the UK at University Hospital Southampton, the procedure involves using two small balloons to divert blood past the liver for an hour while medication is delivered directly into the organ.

Known as chemosaturation therapy or percutaneous hepatic perfusion (PHP), the technique allows doctors to give much larger doses of the drug than patients would receive with standard chemotherapy because it doesn’t enter the bloodstream and doesn’t cause unnecessary damage to healthy parts of the body.

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

Consulting interventional radiologist Dr. Brian Stedman said his team performed 300 procedures on 100 patients whose form of eye cancer known as ocular melanoma had spread to the liver, known as liver metastases.

The revolutionary treatment for liver cancer works by isolating the organ from the rest of the body and “bathing” it in chemotherapy



In a study published in the journal Melanoma Research, the team found that liver cancer was under control in 88.9% of patients who received chemosaturation therapy, with 62% surviving at one year and 30% at two years.

dr Stedman, co-founder of the PLANETS Cancer Charity, which helped fund the research, said: “When we first tried this treatment on two patients in 2012, I said the development would be a milestone in cancer treatment, and it has been really done has proven to be the case in light of these results.

“This treatment allows us to remove an organ from the body for 60 minutes, soak it in a high dose of the drug and then filter the blood almost completely clean before returning it, and its arrival was urgently needed.

“The outlook for patients specifically suffering from cancer that has spread to the liver is notoriously poor because the effectiveness of standard chemotherapy is limited by the unwanted damage the drug causes to the rest of the body.

“Chemosaturation therapy offers the potential for repeated intervention and these results demonstrate that it offers excellent short- and medium-term disease control with improved survival.

dr Brian Stedman, Specialist in Interventional Radiology at Southampton University Hospital



“Having such a large array of results also demonstrates the safety of the system, with patients feeling normal again within days and maintaining an excellent quality of life during treatment by avoiding many of the undesirable side effects of standard chemotherapy.

“This novel approach demonstrates the ability of science and technology to harness the power of imaging and target cancer treatment to the areas where treatment is needed, yet without avoiding the unwanted damage caused by traditional chemotherapy or surgery to normal tissue caused.”

A spokesman for PLANETS said the average survival time in the patients studied was 15 months, but in some cases ongoing cycles of chemo-saturation therapy have almost completely eradicated the patients’ cancer.

He added: “Although it was included in the available treatment options by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) last year, there is currently no NHS-commissioned service.”

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Study co-author Neil Pearce, consultant hepatobiliary surgeon and co-founder of PLANETS, said: “While we currently only have evidence of this treatment for liver cancer that has spread from the eye, these results could now open the door for future studies opening with other difficult-to-treat cancers that affect the liver, and we’re exploring the potential new research studies.

“There was also some limited research and case reports on other cancers – including colorectal, breast, pancreatic and neuroendocrine – from international centers that suggest potential benefit but would need to be more formally evaluated in large clinical trials.

“But these results show that there is real potential for this treatment to expand into more common cancers, which is very exciting.”

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