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Researchers Have New Way To Treat Liver Tumors

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CARY, N.C. — In the United States, more than 100,000 people die each year from liver tumors. It is the place where lung, colon and breast cancers eventually metastasize or spread. It is also a difficult cancer to treat with traditional chemotherapy and radiation.

For several years, Letha House kept going to the doctor with fatigue and diarrhea.

"They kept telling me I had irritable bowel syndrome. (I) was treated for that. (I) was treated for rosacea because I had the permanent flush on my face," House said.

Those are also the symptoms for carcinoid syndrome. Carcinoid tumors usually begin in the colon and spread to the liver or other organs. A CT scan showed that had happened to House.

"I guess the tumors in my liver just lit up when they did that," he said.

House went to Dr. Andrew Kennedy, who helped develop a way to treat liver tumors with something called Sir-sphere microspheres.

"Microspheres are tiny, little, round beads that are charged up with radiation much like a battery. It would take four microspheres side-by-side to be the width of a human hair," Kennedy said.

There are only two portal veins into the liver. Doctors inject the resin beads through a catheter to the hepatic artery that feeds the tumors. "They’re small enough to get in the tumor but too big to get out," Kennedy said.

The beads, irradiated with yttrium-90 deliver a strong, 14-day radiation dose without damaging surrounding tissue. House had several large tumors that required three separate treatments. However, it's a same-day procedure that often yields fast results.

"I just felt so remarkably better within days," she said.

The Food and Drug Administration approved microspheres for colon cancer that speads to the liver. For the past four years, it has been used with promising results in clinical trials for breast and lung cancers that spread to the liver. House still has follow-up tests, but her prognosis is good.

"This has just been miraculous as far as I'm concerned, in how I feel and how easy it was," she said.

Microspheres are only approved for use for tumors in the liver, but Kennedy believes future studies may look at using them to treat other cancers.