Large liver tumors treated with new University device

by Dawn Throener

Liver cancer patients in the Twin Cities now have another treatment option at the University.
Physicians have begun using a Food and Drug Administration-approved device to kill cancer cells in larger liver tumors.
Called radiofrequency ablation, the new device allows doctors to treat larger tumors that previously required surgery, said Dr. Timothy Sielaff, an assistant surgery professor who performs the procedure. Chemotherapy is not effective on large tumors.
During the surgery, a needle-like device and video telescope are inserted into an incision in the abdomen. Wires from the device then attach themselves to the tumor, heating it until the cell membranes are damaged.
The new treatment can only be done on tumors in the liver. The procedure can be done on an outpatient basis and can be repeated if not initially successful.
“It’s a nice procedure to do that destroys the tumors we can see,” Sielaff said. “That’s really the key issue with the least-invasive approach.”
Following treatment, patients always undergo other treatments such as chemotherapy to kill microscopic tumors, Sielaff said. The combined treatments provide a better hope for patient survival.
The technology started in Italy before researchers at the University of California, San Francisco began studying it.
Tamara Ryan, a registered nurse who worked with the California program, said the treatment has been performed there about 90 times.
The procedure has been performed 15 times at the University since 1998.
Not only does radiofrequency ablation treat liver cancer, it also effectively works on colorectal cancer that spreads to the liver.
Colorectal cancer — of the colon and rectum — is the second most common form of cancer in the United States.
Treating colorectal cancer is often difficult, Sielaff said.
Although surgery remains the preferred cancer treatment, radiofrequency ablation is another alternative, especially to prolong the life of someone in need of a liver transplant, Sielaff said.
Because finding someone with a suitable blood type for a donor transplant can take time, controlling tumor growth during this time is vital.
“This has increased the options for a lot of patients,” Ryan said.

Dawn Throener covers the St. Paul campus and welcomes comments at [email protected] She can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3216.