Fifteen-thousand men and 6,000 women will be told they have liver cancer this year. For patients whose cancer hasn't spread, a liver transplant offers the option of a cure … but the surgery comes with a risk of rejection and a lifetime of medications. One new procedure offers hope of cure a cure without a transplant.
The Gomez's have had 47 years of marriage to make memories -- some sweet, and some they want to forget.
"I had a lesion that was 2.5 centimeters," Maria Gomez told Ivanhoe.
Maria was diagnosed with liver cancer three years ago, major surgery her only option.
"I was down for about two weeks," Maria said.
Last year, the cancer came back. Maria chose to delay a liver transplant with a new treatment called IRE, or irreversible electroporation. Guided by CT scans, interventional radiologists used thin needles to insert probes around Maria's tumor.
"Once we have identified the appropriate placement of the probes, we then connect them to a generator, and it kills the tumors by using very high-voltage electricity," Govindarajan Narayanan, M.D., chief of Vascular Interventional Radiology at the University of Miami in Miami, Fla., told Ivanhoe.
The 45-second electrical pulses create multiple holes in the membrane of the cancer cells, destroying the tumor.
"Almost like a neutron bomb, where you kill everything inside but the structure remains," Dr. Narayanan explained.
The body naturally removes the cell structure that's left behind. Unlike traditional ablation, the approach allows radiologists to reach tumors close to blood vessels and leaves no scar tissue behind. No large incisions are required.
"When the healing process takes place, it almost looks like the tumor was not there," Dr. Narayanan said.
Patients are sent home the next day. Forty-eight hours after her procedure, Maria is back soaking in the memories.
Dr. Narayanan says ideal candidates for IRE have liver tumors smaller than 5 centimeters, or they aren't eligible for a transplant. Patients with tumors on multiple organs or who have a pacemaker aren't candidates for the procedure. Doctors plan to use the treatment for cancers of the lung and kidneys and have successfully performed it on the first case of pancreatic cancer.