Tiny Beads Treat Inoperable Liver Cancer

Less invasive radiation therapy may prolong patients' lives

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FRIDAY, June 18, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- A new, minimally invasive treatment that uses tiny glass beads to deliver high doses of radiation to liver tumors is being used to treat people with inoperable liver cancer.

Millions of these radioactive beads called microspheres -- each 15 to 35 microns in diameter -- are injected into the artery supplying blood to the liver. This therapy may prolong and improve the quality of life for people diagnosed with liver cancer.

"The secret to the beads' success is their ability to deliver bigger, more potent doses of radiation to the tumor. Because the radiation travels only 2.5 millimeters in tissue, healthy tissue is spared despite this high concentration of radiation," Dr. Eric Russell, chairman of the department of radiology at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, said in a prepared statement.

After they're injected into the liver, the microspheres irradiate the liver for about 12 days. After that, they're no longer radioactive.

"While surgical removal of liver cancer offers the best chance for a cure, fewer than 15 percent of patients are suitable surgical candidates, either because their cancer is too far advanced upon detection or because of other medical considerations," Russell said.

The therapy is now being used at about 15 hospitals across the United States.

More information

The American Cancer Society has a primer on liver cancer.

SOURCE: Northwestern Memorial Hospital, news release, June 15, 2004

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