Doctors face big challenges treating rare cancers in the abdomen. They remove tumors, but cancer cells can spread through the abdominal cavity and the surface of other organs, making recurrence a probability. Surgeons at the University of California, San Diego are adding a procedure after surgery that’s improving patient survival with something called, HIPEC.
Lori McIntosh appreciates every day with her dogs, Spanky and Oliver. In 2013, after months of feeling bloated and uncomfortable, she was diagnosed with rare appendix cancer. Surgery came first.
Lori shared, “It was scary, especially when they tell you in the beginning that it’s going to be a seven to twelve day hospital stay. So, you know it’s pretty serious.”
Andrew M. Lowy, MD, FACS, Professor of Surgery, Chief, Division of Surgical Oncology at the University of California, San Diego added HIPEC therapy at the end of her operation to kill cancer cells he couldn’t see.
Dr. Lowy explained, “The chemotherapy’s administered in a salt solution similar to what people get intravenously, and then continuously circulated in and out of their body, typically over a 90-minute period.”
Dr. Lowy says HIPEC has at least three advantages over traditional chemo … the 106 degree chemo temperature kills cancer cells, the chemo penetrates two millimeters into tissue, and chemo doses can be higher because it doesn’t go into the rest of the body and cause side effects. He says that HIPEC is increasing cure rates of several cancers of abdominal organs. Cancers where chemo infusions won’t help because the cancer cells aren’t attached to the bloodstream.
“We can cure up to 70-80 percent of those patients where the traditional therapy was to just remove the tumor when it got big and symptomatic with the idea being that nobody could ever really be cured,” continued Dr. Lowy.
Five years after her procedure, Lori is cancer free.
“It’s a lot to get through, but when you’re through it on the other side, and you know, I think it makes you stronger, actually,” Lori stated.
Now, she volunteers as a HIPEC ambassador for UCSD, talking to the families of patients who are getting the procedure.
Dr. Lowy says HIPEC has been successful for patients with cancers of the appendix, colon, ovaries, and stomach and mesothelioma. His team is now working with scientists at Sanford Burnham Institute. They are developing proteins that will punch holes in tumors so drugs can be delivered even more efficiently.