Advances in Treating Liver Cancer Offer New Hope

Chemoembolization combined with sorafenib safe for advanced liver cancer patients

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) The world lost one of its legends this week to liver cancer. Former heavyweight boxing champion Joe Frazier died just weeks after his diagnosis. Advancements in treating this quick killer offer new hope.

Researchers have promising results from testing a new liver cancer treatment that combines an oral medication - Nexavar (sorafenib) - with a system that injects tiny beads of chemotherapy directly into a tumor.

"Find out about the very latest treatments available."

Johns Hopkins investigators tested the combination in a study involving 35 patients with advanced, inoperable liver cancer.

Lead investigator, Johns Hopkins interventional radiologist Jean-Francois Geschwind, M.D., said in a news release announcing the study, "Combining the right therapies at the right time is an intense focus of study among cancer experts."

Both sorafenib and the chemotherapy drug used in the study - doxorubicin - have been approved to treat liver cancer independently, but not in combination.

In this study, Dr. Geschwind used what's known as chemoembolization. Catheters about the size of a single hair are used to deliver microbeads filled with concentrated doses of the chemotherapy drug into the tumor. The drug is released from the microbead for at least three weeks.

Sorafenib, which also treats kidney cancer, blocks tumors from forming blood vessels. It was given to patients twice a day one week before the chemoembolization.

Patients received up to four chemoembolization treatments over a six-month period  and continued taking the pills until their disease progressed.

The combined therapy has proven safe

Both  drugs have improved survival rates for advanced liver cancer patients, and the combination of them may increase those rates even more, says Dr. Geschwind, who is professor of radiology, surgery and oncology at Johns Hopkins.

Chemoembolization procedures can extend the life of advanced liver cancer patients 10 to 15 months beyond the typical 9-month survival rate.

The incidence of liver cancer is rising in the United States, according to Geschwind, because of increasing  rates of hepatitis C infections.

Liver cancer grows quickly and doesn''t have specific symptoms. Finding the disease early is difficult, as a result.

When the cancer hasn't spread beyond the liver, surgery is an option, but 75 percent of patients are ineligible.

A trial is currently under way at Johns Hopkins and 100 other sites in the United States comparing chemoembolization with or without sorafenib.

Results from this study are published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

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Review Date: 
November 9, 2011
Last Updated:
November 10, 2011