Most oncologists will tell you that up until recently, a liver cancer diagnosis was almost always a death sentence. In most cases, the patient would succumb to their disease in just a few months. A liver cancer diagnosis is made when cancer has developed solely in the liver rather than migrated from cancer which has developed in another place in the body. People who have a primary cancer in a different place in their body such as the lung or breast will often experience a metastasis to their liver. While this is technically considered to be liver cancer, it is a secondary cancer.
The liver is among the largest organs in the human body. It is located just below the right lung where it rests just below the ribcage. It contains four lobes. A liver cancer diagnosis is made when malignant tumors are discovered either in or around this organ. Tumors often become visible during the course of medical imaging which is being conducted for a disease other than liver cancer. The symptoms of liver cancer include mild abdominal pain, jaundice and nausea and are often vague and difficult to diagnose.
Until very recently, there were virtually no cures for liver cancer and patients were usually offered the tripod of standard cancer treatments which include chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. After the treatment failed to achieve any discernable improvements, they would generally be offered palliative treatment which would be offered as a way to keep them comfortable through the dying process. This may soon be about to change based on treatments that have been going through clinical trials at the Greenbaum Cancer Center at the University of Maryland where doctors have been using a treatment of inoperable liver cancer which has been showing dramatically promising results. This new treatment is known as Selective Internal Radiation Therapy, also called SIRT. It is a totally non-surgical treatment in which microscopic radioactive spheres which are called SIR-Spheres are inserted and implanted into the patient’s body. These tiny spheres emit radiation which has been specifically targeted to the site of the tumors on the liver.
In the world of cancer medicine, this news is groundbreaking and gives oncologists in the United States new reasons to hope that a new liver cancer treatment may be emerging. This new treatment offers the first reason to hope to anyone who has been diagnosed with liver cancer. These microscopic glass beads are able to deliver about 40 times more radiation than standard radiation treatment alone. Because the radiation is delivered directly to the tumors, there are no side effects such a radiation burns.
Because the SIR-Spheres are placed directly in the patient’s body, doctors can safely and selectively target specific tumors regardless of their size or their position on the liver. The spheres emit a .high dose of radiation but spare all the surrounding tissue. This treatment has been proven to shrink tumors on the liver and increase life expectancy while also improving the patient’s quality of life. SIR-Spheres treatment has been received FDA approval for patients with a primary colorectal cancer which has metastasized to the liver. It is by far the most promising potential for a liver cancer cure.
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