Non-Surgical Treatment Offers Hope for Liver Cancer

Needle delivers tumor-cooking heat to site of malignancy

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FRIDAY, Feb. 25, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- A new, minimally invasive technology that 'cooks' tumors using a tiny needle may be an effective first-line treatment for people with early-stage liver cancer who don't quality for surgery, according to two studies on the procedure, called radiofrequency (RF) ablation.

Liver cancer patients usually have a poor prognosis, experts say, and surgery to remove the cancerous part of the liver is often considered the best -- and only -- hope for patients. Unfortunately, most patients won't qualify for surgery and liver transplant is viable option for only a minority of candidates.

The two new studies suggest that RF ablation offers an effective new option for inoperable liver cancer, and may also help liver cancer patients waiting for liver transplantation. In RF ablation, surgeons insert an image-guided needle into spots on the liver affected by cancer. The needle then delivers heat directly to these affected regions, destroying tumor cells.

In the first study, Italian researchers at the University of Pisa used RF ablation on 187 early-stage liver cancer patients with cirrhosis who did not qualify for surgery. Ninety-seven percent of the patients survived one year, 71 percent survived three years and 48 percent survived five years; comparable to results seen in patients who undergo surgery.

In the second study, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles used RF ablation to treat 47 liver cancer nodules in 24 patients waiting for liver transplantation. The study found that 74 percent of the tumors were successfully treated by RF ablation. The procedure was more successful with smaller tumors than with larger ones, the researchers add.

"I believe that this treatment will soon enter into the guidelines for the clinical management of liver cancer patients," Dr. Riccardo Lencioni, lead researcher for the Italian team, said in a prepared statement.

Both studies will appear in the March issue of Radiology.

More information

The American Cancer Society has more about liver cancer.

SOURCE: Radiological Society of North America, news release, Feb.16, 2005

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