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YOUR HEALTH: Surviving a case of appendix cancer

Doctors used "Hot Chemo" as a treatment to save a newlywed's life, but it doesn't work for everyone

HIPEC, or hot chemo, is a treatment for advanced abdominal cancers. 

It's a life-saving option for some patients, but in others, doctors have to stop surgery because of complications

Researchers are now working to determine which patients may be at a higher risk of an aborted procedure.

Their work made a life saving difference for newlyweds Brittney and Ryan Little.

At just age 27, doctors diagnosed the chronic pain in Brittney's abdomen as PMP, an advanced type of appendix cancer

It was the last thing either expected.

"We had just gotten married in August, you know, four months earlier," said Ryan.

"It just, it didn't feel real," added Brittany.

Doctors recommended surgery, followed by internal chemotherapy known as HIPEC.

Doctors surgically remove the tumor and then bathe the abdominal cavity in heated chemotherapy.

"That was pretty much my only option at that time, because of the extent," said Brittany.

Dr. Kate Baron and her colleagues are trying to determine which patients do best with HIPEC.

In up to 30% of the cases surgeons begin the procedure and have to stop.

"It's a very dramatic situation because aborted surgery itself doesn't have any benefits for patients but can lead to complications or even delay treatments like chemotherapy," explained Dr. Baron, a surgical research fellow with the Institute of Cancer Care at Baltimore's Mercy Medical Center.

Dr. Baron's study found screening for elevated tumor and inflammatory markers in addition to imaging could help doctors plan before HIPEC surgery. 

For Ryan and Brittney no amount of planning could prepare them for their first big challenge

"Well, I guess when they say in sickness and in health, I didn't quite think a sickness would come that quick after marriage," Brittany joked.

"Our future didn't end; it just changed a little bit," her new husband added.

HIPEC has several advantages for patients: 

  • It's only one treatment done immediately after surgery
  • It doesn't require several trips back for treatment
  • It allows for a higher concentration of chemotherapy to be delivered into the abdomen

HIPEC is one potential option for advanced-stage appendix cancer. 

Before patients receive HIPEC treatment, doctors perform cytoreductive surgery to remove visible tumors within the abdomen. 

Once as many tumors as possible have been removed, the heated, sterilized chemotherapy solution is delivered to the abdomen to penetrate and destroy remaining cancer cells. 

HIPEC is a treatment option for people who have advanced surface spread of cancer within the abdomen, without disease involvement outside of the abdomen. 

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.