7.6 million people in the world die from cancer each year. 1,638,910 of those people are Americans. It is the number two cause of death in America, leaving families disrupted in its wake. But what if technology could drastically reduce those numbers? Well, scientists are now working on exactly that.
Targeted chemotherapy is the newest development in the fight against cancer. In relative terms, the treatment isolates a tumor through blood vessels and delivers a high dose of chemotherapy to the isolated area. The process allows doctors to send much stronger radiation into the body without fear of damaging other organs.
There are two main processes of targeted chemotherapy. The first is called IsoFlow, developed by Robert Goldman and his company, Vascular Designs. Goldman had watched helplessly as several family members lost their battles to cancer during the 1980s, and decided something had to be available to fix that. He spent the next decade researching a technology that could be better used to treat tumors in cancer patients. Goldman discovered that tumors survive off of the body by inserting a “feeding tube” into the regular blood stream, and he wondered what would happen if you cut off the blood supply to the tumor and sent all of the chemotherapy to that area. Vascular Designs spent millions of dollars researching and testing their chemotherapy isolation tool, the IsoFlow Isolation Catheter.
IsoFlow Isolation Catheter
What is it?
The catheter is a series of tubes and balloons that, once inserted, isolate the blood flow to the targeted area. The tubes are connected to two syringes outside of the body. Once the catheter is put into place, the first syringe is used to inflate the two balloons inside the body, one on each side of the tumor’s feeder tube. When the balloons have been inflated, the blood supply is rerouted through another tube so that it skips the area altogether without interrupting the body’s natural blood flow. Thus, the feeder tube is completely isolated. A second syringe is then used to inject high-intensity chemotherapy into the isolated area and directly at the tumor. The balloons ensure that the treatment stays in that area and does not travel around the body or contaminate the blood supply, especially given that it’s such a high dose. The catheter is designed to treat tumors that have a defined shape and vasculature; however, it could also help patients whose tumors have not responded to regular chemotherapy, as it delivers a high dose of treatment to a specific area
The IsoFlow Isolation Catheter was given the FDA’s stamp of approval in 2009, and received its CE mark for use in Europe and Canada in 2011. The treatment is now used in hospitals across the United States, and will continue to save the lives of cancer patients as the technology is perfected. One large benefit of this technological development is its time frame – the entire procedure takes about an hour, and can be performed as an outpatient procedure. That’s good news to cancer patients who are tired of medical equipment and blank walls inside hospitals.
Percutaneous Hepatic Perfusion
What’s the difference?
The other advanced isolated chemotherapy treatment is known as percutaneous hepatic perfusion, or PHP. This treatment deals specifically with the liver, as opposed to the IsoFlow system which is used for isolated tumors. PHP uses isolation technology to cut off the blood supply to and from the liver, for patients whose cancer has spread to that organ. The treatment uses a similar design to the IsoFlow catheter, with balloons in the veins. However, the PHP treatment is much more intense.
Because they’re targeting an entire organ, the doctors using PHP have to be extremely careful and accurate. The isolation balloons are inserted into the veins, and inflated to cut off the blood supply to the liver. Doctors then insert the cancer treatment, melphalan hydrochloride, into the femoral vein, which takes the high-intensity dose directly to the liver. The treatment is only allowed to work for thirty minutes in the body. Another catheter is inserted into the vein, capturing the blood leaving the liver that has been contaminated by the drugs. The blood is siphoned through a filtration device outside of the body that extracts the melphalan. The clean blood is then pumped back into the system through a third catheter in the jugular vein. Once the process is completed, the balloons isolating the liver are deflated, and all catheters are removed from the patient.
What are the perks?
Percutaneous hepatic perfusion is also an outpatient procedure, but the procedure time is a little bit longer than the IsoFlow system simply because of the prep work needed before treatment (guiding the wires and catheters, monitoring blood flow, etc). The recovery time is also slightly longer for this treatment. Because there are catheters in a variety of areas of the body, doctors are required to keep the patient longer to monitor their stability and recovery. Once a good amount of time has passed and the patient feels well enough, they are permitted to go home. The PHP process is still in development as researchers continue to perfect the system. The process is currently in phase III of clinical testing, but should be available nationwide in the next few years.
Why is isolated chemotherapy more significant than traditional chemo?
Isolated chemotherapy as a whole has been shown to deliver more consistent results because of its targeted nature. The chemicals injected into the body are much higher doses than can be used in generic chemotherapy because there is no danger of the medicine escaping to the rest of the body. The doctors can use higher radiation with an isolated flow because the medicine directly interacts with the tumor or cancerous cells, which delivers better results in fewer treatments. Patients have far less severe side effects and consequences, including hair loss, weight loss and more.
The concept of isolated chemotherapy has also sparked new research into other varieties of cancer cells. The newest development in research, however, is targeting breast cancer tumors and cells. Scientists are currently studying which drugs would target breast cancer cells the most efficiently. They are also developing an alternative isolated chemotherapy process that would specifically target breast cancer cells, as they are trickier than developed tumors. Although the research is relatively new, and will more than likely take years to perfect, it provides hope for patients and families struggling through this disease. The new treatments and continuing research give a light at the end of a long tunnel for those battling against cancer.