If you’re a patient with cancer, the thought of chemotherapy is frightening. Will it work? Researchers at Johns Hopkins and Dutch radiologists have teamed up to develop a new technology that allows them to see liver cancer tumors die in real time.
The scientists used two successive pairs of specialized CT scans that can provide an answer to the success or failure of chemotherapy drugs within minutes.
Senior study investigator and interventional radiologist Jean-Francois Geschwind, M.D. said in a press release, "Patients should not have to endure the uncertainty of waiting weeks or more to find out if their chemoembolization was successful in fighting their liver cancer.”
For their investigation researchers used dual-phase cone-bean computed tomography or DPCBCT to study 27 patients with liver cancer.
The researchers injected anticancer drugs directly into liver tumors. Geschwind explains the approach is important for eradicating liver cancer tumors quickly; before they spread. The treatment targets tumors that are too large to be removed surgically or for patients whose best choice of treatment is with anti-cancer drugs because of moderate to severe disease.
The researchers say the initial tumor shrinkage seen matched up almost perfectly with MRI scans conducted a month later. A total of 47 tumors were closely tracked for the study in patients treated at The Johns Hopkins Hospital between March and December 2009.
The scanning device is about the size of a laptop computer and can be placed directly above or below the operating room table.
The technique involves scanning while injecting a dye through an artery to find blood vessels that are feeding cancer tumors.
The next step is injecting the chemotherapy drug and then another scan to see if the drug is killing the blood vessels and the cancer tumor. Specifically, tiny beads containing the chemotherapy drug doxorubicin is injected directly into liver tumors.
Catheters that are the size of a human hair are threaded through the blood vessels and the tiny beads continue their work for several weeks as they seep through the catheter.
Computer software is used to ensure the images are sharp. The researchers say the scan delivers much less radiation that a conventional CT scan and only takes 20 to 30 seconds.
The Johns Hopkins researchers note liver cancer kills about 20,000 Americans each year. Half of liver cancer patients die within 9 months. Early study results show patients with advanced disease are living 10 months to 15 months longer. One of the contributors to the cancer is increasing rates of Hepatitis C that causes chronic inflammation.
You can view photos of DPCBCT scans here.