Innovative liver cancer treatment now available on Vancouver Island

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An advanced therapy that targets tumours with a high dose of focused radiation while sparing surrounding healthy tissue is now available in the Island Health region, providing another potential treatment option closer to home for liver cancer patients.  

The treatment, referred to as transarterial radioembolization, or TARE for short, uses tiny beads containing radioactive material to slow down the growth of liver tumours and help alleviate symptoms.

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(Left to right) Kristina Northcott, RN, Beth Pucsek, Nuclear Medicine Tech, Dr Dhatt, Interventional radiologist prepare for dose administration 

“This procedure is delivered to the tumour through a thin tube called a catheter placed into the hepatic artery that supplies blood to the tumour,” said Dr. Ashley Freeman, medical oncologist with BC Cancer – Victoria. “A radioactive agent is infused and delivers high-dose radiation inside the liver tumour while minimizing exposure to the rest of the liver. It’s a targeted radiation therapy that can destroy tumour cells and slow the growth of the tumour with minimal side effects, often with a single treatment.”

Prior to Island Health offering this procedure, liver cancer patients who were ideal candidates had to travel to other parts of the province to receive treatment. Now patients are able to receive care on Vancouver Island and can return home the same day.

“This is a great example of the partnership between Island Health and BC Cancer,” said Dr. Freeman. “It is through teamwork that we are able to work together to ensure the latest innovations in cancer care are available to Island Health patients.”

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Courtney Albert preparing intravenous pain medications for patients with acute pain

The team consists of members from Interventional Radiology, Transplant Surgery, Nuclear Medicine, Hepatology, Medical Physics, Radiation Safety, and Medical/Radiation/Surgical Oncology. Together, they determine the unique cancer treatment plans for each patient. 

“Using TARE therapy for our liver cancer patients brings us on par with major health-care centres across the world,” said Dr. Vamshi Kotha, a leader on the Interventional Radiology team who was responsible for introducing the procedure to Island Health. “In a large majority of patients, liver cancer is now very treatable by such minimally invasive techniques.” 

Patients meeting the criteria for this procedure will be referred by their BC Cancer – Victoria oncologist to Island Health for treatment.

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