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7:14 AM Mon, Sept. 24th

YRMC doctor offers new hope to advanced liver cancer patients

Dr. Paxton

Dr. Paxton

PRESCOTT - Interventional radiologist Dr. Ben Paxton is now offering a treatment at the Yavapai Regional Medical Center that spells hope for advanced liver cancer patients.

For such patients, this procedure, known as chemoembolization, is often considered a "treatment of last resorts" but is an effective means to stop and shrink tumors, and therefore, extend the patient's life without unpleasant side effects, said Paxton, who was trained in the treatment through a yearlong fellowship at Duke University.

"So I think this is a big deal for patients," Paxton said on Wednesday, April 1.

Until late last year when Paxton was able to perform the first of these treatments, the only way someone could undergo the endovascular procedure was to travel to Phoenix. With this option now closer to home, patients need not worry about long-distance travel or the extra expense of an overnight hotel stay to recover from what is described as minimally-invasive surgery not unlike cardiac catheterization for the heart, Paxton said. He noted the needle is inserted directly into the artery leading to the liver, and therefore, there is no incision.

Since his first procedure on the westside campus of the hospital, Paxton said he has performed two more. He expects that number to grow in the near future as local oncologists become aware this treatment is available to their patients close to home.

Many patients who are eligible for chemoembolization are those who were diagnosed with another cancer, often in the colon, and the disease then spread to the liver, Paxton said.

As Paxton describes, this treatment relies on imaging technology to insert a thin catheter into the liver, where high doses of anti-cancer drugs and an embolic agent are delivered directly into the liver. Once the catheter is in place, the physician performing the procedure takes X-rays that reveal the branches of arteries leading to the tumors so the anti-cancer drugs can be directed to the tumors in a more concentrated fashion, Paxton explained.

The hourlong procedure has virtually no side effects beyond some pain, Paxton said. Any discomfort, though, can be managed with medication delivered to the patient as part of their overnight recovery in the hospital, he said. The procedure is also compatible with other types of chemotherapy, Paxton said.

One key advantage of making this proven treatment available at the local hospital is the follow-up, Paxton said. Patients are advised after the procedure to undergo high-tech resonance body scans of the liver every three months to monitor tumor shrinkage and if there is any new tumor growth, Paxton said. Again, when this can be done close to home, it is a quality of life issue for the patient, he said.

This treatment is, generally, well-tolerated by patients, and it can be repeated, with the American College of Radiology saying the optimal time for a second treatment is between 10 and 14 months, Paxton said.

Most advanced-stage liver cancer patients are people between the ages of 50 and 80, and with this additional treatment protocol, people's survival rates improve because their disease is able to be stablized, with excising tumors reduced and new tumors halted altogether, Paxton said.

"It's a very good treatment," Paxton said. "This is effective in 60 to 70 percent of all advanced liver cancers, which is a pretty big deal."

Follow Nanci Hutson on Twitter @HutsonNanci