YOUR HEALTH: The treatment that directly targets colon cancer

It’s a cutting-edge treatment for patients with colon cancer.

DURHAM, North Carolina – Patients with colon cancer that spread to the liver had few options if standard chemotherapy stopped working.

Now, a treatment that pumps chemo directly to the tumor is doubling the survival rate.

Rita LaFlamme has 57 years of memories and counting with her husband Bob.

"We have two sons and two grandchildren."

But both were stunned when Rita was diagnosed with stage four colorectal cancer in 2018.

Every year, nearly 140,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with colorectal cancer.  In up to a quarter of those, it has spread to the liver.

When standard chemotherapy stops working many patients are left with few options.

Now doctors at Duke University are offering a treatment called hepatic artery infusion using a pump.

"The pump which is a battery powered motorized pump is surgically implanted into a pocket in the abdominal wall," explained Duke University surgical oncologist Dr. Michael Lidsky.

The pump provides a direct dose of concentrated chemo to the liver.

"Those concentrations actually reach somewhere between three and 400 times the concentration that we would be able to get if we gave it intravenously," added Dr. Lidsky.

So far, the results have been dramatic.

Dr. Lidsky says the treatment is used in combination with standard chemo and has been shown to double the survival rate.

"The estimated five-year survivals for patients that have surgery combined with chemotherapy are somewhere between 50 and 60%" he said.

"But now that we have hepatic artery infusion, we can actually increase the likelihood of survival.   And now we're seeing survival 10 years after surgery, which is just as good as what we previously saw at five years."

Rita LaFlamme is living proof.

"It's pumping on the tumor and I'm not feeling a thing."

Rita says the treatment is working to shrink her tumor and she hopes to have surgery to remove it soon.

"I know I can beat this, I have no doubt in my mind that I will, I will beat it."

Dr. Lidsky says hepatic artery infusion is not a cure but can be used pre- or post-surgery to shrink tumors in patients with metastatic colorectal cancer to the liver.

The pump stays in the patient for years and can be used again if the disease recurs.

Right now, the treatment is only being offered at a handful of centers around the country including Duke Medical Center and Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York.

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.