Cancer Gone in 60 Seconds

Liver cancer tumor imaging shows if chemotherapy working

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

(RxWiki News) Now this is amazing! An international team of researchers has found a way to watch in real time the assassination of cancer. In about a minute, they could literally see liver tumors shrink. How cool is that?

Using two high-tech scanners, researchers were able to visualize whether or not chemotherapy was working on a liver tumor. Within a minute of injecting the tumor with the medication, researchers could see the tumors start to die.

If this technique becomes a standard of care, it would save patients weeks of waiting to see whether another type of therapy is working. And decisions about additional approaches can be made more quickly to fight a fast-moving cancer.

"Ask what kind of cancer therapy you’re receiving."

This discovery is the result of collaboration between researchers at Johns Hopkins and Dutch radiologists. They developed a new way to use an imaging technology called dual-phase cone-bean computed tomography, or DPCBCT.

Currently, liver cancer patients have a treatment called chemoembolization. Tiny beads filled with doxorubicin, a commonly used chemotherapy agent, are injected into the liver tumor. The drugs seep out of the beads over several weeks. Patients have to wait a month to see if the chemotherapy is working.

"This new scanning method is giving us almost instant feedback about the value of injecting antitumor drugs directly into large liver tumors and their surrounding blood vessels in an effort to quickly kill them, and to prevent the cancer from spreading," said Jean-Francois Geschwind, MD, senior study investigator and interventional radiologist at Johns Hopkins.

In patients whose tumors are too advanced to remove, chemoembolization is currently the only option. And because liver cancer behaves like a wildfire, time is of the essence.

Dr. Geschwind doesn’t think patients should have to “endure the uncertainty of waiting weeks or more to find out if their chemoembolization was successful in fighting their liver cancer."

He says his technique eliminates the waiting time during which the cancer can grow and spread. And timing is vitally important. About half of all liver cancer patients aren’t alive a year after diagnosis.

The DPCBCT technique itself only takes 20-30 seconds to perform. DPCBCT scanners are about the size of a laptop computer and can be done in the same room where the chemoembolization is performed. Radiation exposure, the researchers say, is about half of what a traditional CT (computed tomography) scan produces. The system uses sophisticated computer software to enhance the images.

To study its effectiveness, researchers performed DPCBCT scans on 27 patients with liver cancer that couldn’t be treated with surgery. They found no difference in the shrinkage measured by the DPCBCT and the MRI images taken a month after the chemoembolization. 

Dr. Geschwind says his team is planning to refine and improve the image quality of the scans in the hopes that other physicians will begin using the technique.

Nearly 29,000 Americans learned they had liver cancer in 2012 and 20,550 died from it.

The study is published in the January edition of the journal Radiology.

This research was funded by French Society of Radiology and Philips Research North America, the manufacturer of the CBCT used in the study. Also supporting this work were the National Cancer Institute, a member of the National Institutes of Health. Ming De Lin, PhD, a Philips biomedical engineer based at Johns Hopkins has been working with Dr. Geschwind and his team for the past five years to perfect the DPCBCT technique.

Bayer HealthCare and Onyx Pharmaceuticals, the manufacturer of the study medication and Biocompatibles, the microbead maker, funded the chemoembolization study. Dr. Geschwind is a consultant to both Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals and Biocompatibles.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 3, 2013
Last Updated:
January 5, 2013