Treating Liver Cancer with Tiny Beads

Treating cancer that either began in the liver or has spread to the liver often involves months of chemotherapy and painful radiation treatments.

Now, a new procedure, one using tiny beads that carry a high dose of radiation directly to the cancer cells, may put an end to older, more painful treatment methods.

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

“You don’t have much of a choice. Either you accept it or you don’t,” said Dowling.

Instead, his doctors recommended a new form of treatment that 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 said, "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."

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," explained.

Dowling’s wife, Adrienne, 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 Dowling’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,” Gilliland detailed.

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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