New Therapy

For Patients with Inoperable Liver Cancer

Interventional radiologists at the Ingalls Cancer Institute are treating patients who have inoperable liver cancer with a revolutionary internal radiation treatment to help destroy tumors from the inside out.

The new selective internal radiation treatment, known as SIR-Spheres therapy, is the only Food and Drug Administration-approved microsphere therapy for patients with primary colorectal cancer that has spread to the liver.

“Of the nearly 150,000 Americans diagnosed with colorectal cancer every year, at least 60 percent will see their cancer spread to the liver, and most liver tumors cannot be surgically removed,” explains Perry Gilbert, M.D., medical director of Interventional Radiology.

In fact, according to the manufacturer, up to 90 percent of patients with metastatic liver cancer die from liver failure.

“Microspheres therapy has emerged as a novel treatment option when most other treatment options have failed,” Dr. Gilbert added.

How it Works

The polymer beads – one-third the thickness of a human hair and imbedded with the radioactive element yttrium-90 – are delivered by the millions directly to the tumor site, via a tiny catheter placed in the femoral artery in the upper thigh.

Using sophisticated X-ray imaging, the catheter is threaded into the hepatic artery, a major blood vessel in the liver. The radioactive beads then lodge in the small blood vessels that feed the tumor.

Within two to six hours, patients are ready to go home. The beads remain in the liver and lose their radiation within two weeks. Patients usually receive two treatments, one to each lobe of the liver, four weeks apart.

Research into the use of yttrium-90 microspheres as a treatment for liver cancer began in the 1960s, and the early pioneers included an impressive list of international research scientists, radiologists and oncologists.

The microspheres selectively target the tumors with a dose of radiation up to 40 times greater than conventional radiotherapy, leaving the surrounding healthy liver tissue relatively unaffected.

The radiation poses no risk to family members.

“We believe this is a very sound and promising treatment option for one of the deadliest forms of cancer,” Dr. Gilbert said, adding that in clinical trials, microsphere therapy has been shown to shrink liver tumors, extend patient survival and help patients maintain a good quality of life.

Microsphere therapy is one of several targeted cancer therapies at Ingalls for patients with inoperable liver cancer. Other treatment options include radiofrequency ablation (which uses radio waves to destroy tumors with heat) and chemoembolization (which involves injecting tumors with chemotherapy drugs and tiny particles that block the tumor’s blood vessels).

Success Stories
  • Title

    Inspirational stories of courage and hope

Progress Magazine