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Breakthrough Treatment For Liver Cancer Gets Worldwide Attention

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Cancer is scary enough. When doctors say you are out of options, it is easy to feel discouraged, even hopeless. A breakthrough treatment in the Triangle is giving people with liver cancer new hope.

WRAL's Health Team first reported about

microsphere therapy

last year. The story on the treatment generated e-mail and interest from around the world.

Many people have traveled to the Triangle for the procedure, including Marjorie Firmani.

After chemotherapy and radiation, the Fayetteville resident thought she was through with cancer, but it spread to her liver. Now she is fighting back with microspheres.

Microspheres are tiny beads of irradiated glass. During the procedure, doctors thread a catheter through the groin and into the liver. The spheres --20 million of them -- are injected directly into the liver. They stick to the tumors and deliver a deadly dose of radiation.

Dr. Andrew Kennedy, with Wake Radiology Oncology Services, helped develop the microsphere treatment. He says one of the advantages is that it targets only tumors so there is no lasting liver damage.

"Their liver can heal itself and it's one of the few organs that can grow larger to compensate for damage," Kennedy said.

When Kennedy brought the microspheres treatments to the Triangle, he expected to get a lot of local patients.

What he did not plan on were the calls he would get from across the the country and around the world. He said he has heard from people in Europe, South America and most of the United States.

Kennedy is training doctors how to use microspheres so more hospitals can offer it.

"In the United States, there are currently 20 hospitals actively using microsphere therapy," Kennedy said.

Firmani went to WakeMed in Raleigh for the breakthrough treatment. Two weeks after the procedure she is feeling fine and says she will feel even better if tests show her tumors are gone.

"I feel like I'm on the road to recovery right now," she said.

Long-term data on the procedure is promising. Most patients are symptom-free nine months or longer after the procedure. In some cases, the cancer goes away completely.

Side effects are minor, usually just fatigue and nausea the first couple of days. Most people are back to normal activities within a week.


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