Lifewatch: Theraspheres

WILMINGTON --  Liver Cancer is becoming more common as more people get Hepatitis C, putting them at risk.

But now there's a new way of prolonging life for patients with a cancer that typically kills within months.

Patient John Jambrosic has a cancerous tumor in his liver, and was given three months to live.

"They said well, if we treat 'em we might be able to give you a year. You know, wow, I'm not gonna be able to get much done in a year," said Jambrosic.

In June 2007 at the University of Kansas Hospital, a team prepared to inject millions of glass beads into Jambrosic's liver.

The beads are called Theraspheres, and are so tiny you can't see them with the naked eye. Each is only half the diameter of a human hair and contain powerful radiation.

"If you have a spill, those beads they're gonna bounce, and you're gonna have a radiation spill," said Phil Johnson, M.D. an Interventional Radiologist from the University of Kansas Hospital.

The beads travel into a catheter that carries them into the liver, directly into the tumor.

"So the advantage of delivering those beads is they can deliver an internal radiation that's very, very focal, is limited to the tumor and spares significant damage to the liver," said Johnson.

The procedure is done on an outpatient basis and the patient is awake, though sedated.

"A couple of days after that, it really started killing the tumor and it really started to hurt for six-seven days," said Jambrosic.

But, it was working.  The levels of a marker for cancer in his blood have dropped dramatically, and the tumor shrunk.

Not a cure, but Jambrosic could get the treatment again.

"If we can get his tumor to shrink down enough, we may potentially be able to get him a transplant," said Johnson.

Jambrosic has lived almost a year since diagnosis which is much longer than the norm with advanced liver cancer.

Doctor Steven Crawford is a Duke trained, local interventional radiologist who performs an almost identical procedure using resin beads, Sirspheres, in place of glass beads in Coastal Carolina.

According to Crawford, the treatment can be used for colon, breast, lung, and pancreatic cancers that have spread to the liver.
A couple of other points:

  1. The treatment is very well tolerated with little to no side effects.  The patient's experience in this piece where he had significant pain is highly unusual.
  2. It is usual performed in three separate outpatient procedures over a 2 month period.
  3. The treatment is only for tumors in the liver and no where else in the body so it is usually done in conjunction with chemotherapy.

The actual procedure itself is called selective internal radiation therapy and has been performed on over 75 patients at New Hanover Regional Medical Center since 2004 by Dr. Steven Crawford.  Dr. Crawford practices with Delaney Radiologists in Wilmington.

If you'd like to discuss cancer treatment with Dr. Crawford, you can call him at 910-343-2177, or email him, here.

Reported by Kristy Ondo