A treatment that isolates the blood supply to a cancerous liver while the organ receives a “chemo bath” has been used for the first time in the UK. The procedure saturates the liver with high doses of chemotherapy without affecting the rest of the body.

This week, various media have reported how Brian Stedman, a consultant interventional radiologist at Southampton General Hospital, used the procedure, known as Chemosaturation with Percutaneous Hepatic Perfusion (CS-PHP), on two patients whose cancer had spread to the liver.

The method has already been used in the US, Germany, Italy, Ireland and France.

A study published earlier this year by researchers at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida in the US, shows that patients who received the landmark procedure survived 5 times longer than patients who received the best alternative care.

A number of cancers spread to the liver from a primary tumor, among these is melanoma of the eye. Once the cancer reaches the liver, there is no effective treatment and survival is usually no more than four months, with one in ten patients living for a year.

The US study found the new treatment significantly extends the time these melanoma patients can live without the disease progressing.

The chemo drug is infused directly into the liver via catheter into the artery. Blood in the veins leading out of the liver is then captured and filtered through a specially designed, double-balloon catheter to filter out the drug before the cleaned blood is returned to the body.

The approach allows the drug to be delivered, at a higher dosage than usual, directly to the liver and target the cancer tumor there, but in a minimally invasive manner.

Stedman, who is the clinical lead for pancreatic and hepatobiliary cancer at Southampton, with a special interest in minimally invasive tumor treatment, told the press:

”To cut off an organ from the body for 60 minutes, soak it in a high dose of drug and then filter the blood almost completely clean before returning is truly groundbreaking.”

He explained that under traditional treatments, the outlook for patients whose cancer had spread to the liver is poor because standard chemotherapy is limited by the unwanted damage it does to the rest of the body.

Stedman says the new technique could go on to treat other cancers, including those of the colon and breast.

Written by Catharine Paddock PhD