Treating Liver Cancer with Tiny Beads

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Treating cancer that began in the liver or has spread to the liver can often involve months of chemotherapy and painful radiation treatments. (KFSN)

Treating cancer that began in the liver or has spread to the liver can often involve months of chemotherapy and painful radiation treatments. But now there's a new procedure that takes tiny beads that carry a high dose of radiation and sends them straight to the cancer.

When Richard Dowling was diagnosed with liver cancer at 76, he figured doctors would focus more on his comfort than a cure.

Richard told Ivanhoe, "You don't have much of a choice. Either you accept it or you don't."

Instead, Richard's doctors recommended a new form of treatment. It uses tiny beads called microspheres to deliver a powerful punch of radiation known as Y-90.

Dr. Charles Gilliland, Director of Interventional Radiology at Emory Saint Joseph's Hospital told Ivanhoe, "It allows us to have a vehicle to deliver high dose radiation to a cancer inside the liver, without having the radiation go elsewhere in your body."

Dr. Gilliland said a catheter is inserted through a tiny incision in the groin and threaded through the arteries to a blood vessel in the liver.

"The more blood flow the tumor gets, the more beads with radioactive particles get deposited into the tumor," Dr. Gilliland explained.

Richard's wife, Adrienne Dowling said, "It gave him an extension on life and that's really important and it's critical."

It's a one day, non-surgical procedure. In Richard's case the microspheres killed his liver cancer completely, but that's actually not typical.

"Most of the time the tumor still wins. Most of the time it's not a curative treatment, it's an opportunity to give patients additional time," Dr. Gilliland detailed.

And when you've been married for 52 years, time is the most important thing of all.

Right after the procedure patients are told to stay three feet away from people and pets for three days as a precaution for the radiation in their body. The only side effect is fatigue and a mild burning that goes away after a week.
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