For the first time in the UK, doctors have been able to target harmful cancer drugs to an isolated organ in the body through a “chemo-bath.”
Chemotherapy has always been a brutal form of treatment, as it kills healthy cells along with cancer cells. Regular chemotherapy involves injecting drugs into patients’ veins. The drugs thus reach the entire body. Side effects include exhaustion, nausea, hair loss, and decreased fertility.
Medical staff at Southampton General Hospital are examining how isolating a single organ for treatment can lessen devastating side effects. They are further claiming that chemo-baths will allow higher doses of the drugs to be administered without producing life-threatening damage.
Two patients suffering from a rare eye cancer that had since spread to the liver, underwent chemotherapy that targeted their livers. The recent chemo-baths required doctors to use inflated balloons within the blood vessels adjacent to the organ. The balloon separated the liver from the rest of the organs in the patient’s body.
The doctors injected chemo drugs into the liver, but cleaned them from the system before the liver’s blood supply entered the rest of the body. This prevented nearly all of the chemo medication from leaving the liver.
Dr. Brian Stedman is a consultant interventional radiologist. He praised the recent treatment, saying: “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.”
Stedman expanded upon the benefits of chemo-baths. “Previously,” he explained, “the outlook for patients specifically suffering from cancer which has spread to the liver has been poor because standard chemotherapy’s effect is limited by the unwanted damage the drug causes to the rest of the body.”
In an interview with the BBC, Stedman said that, “In 20 years’ time the idea of injecting a drug which poisons the whole body for a cancer in just one small area will seem bonkers.”
The two patients who received chemo-bath treatment in the last quarter-year are recovering and their tumors seem to be shrinking.
According to Stedman, such a technique could be applied any organ that is easily separated from the body blood flow. This includes the kidney, pancreas, and lungs. Despite his optimism, Stedman emphasized that the treatment is still in its early phase.
Chemo-bath treatments are undergoing testing in the USA and Europe.