You heard about it first on Patient Power when, a couple of years ago, we interviewed Dr. Andrew Lowy, oncology surgeon at UC San Diego Medical Center. He explained how some patients with advanced cancer spread in their abdomen could benefit from an open surgery – perhaps as much as nine hours long – where, after snipping out visible cancer – the organs are bathed in heated chemotherapy for 90 minutes. You may recall the story of Jennifer Ambrose, a young mom from suburban Chicago, who developed cancer of the appendix. She tracked down Dr. Lowy after spotting him on the Internet. She traveled to San Diego, had the “hot chemo” procedure, recovered and then went on to have a second child – her “miracle baby.” Today Jennifer remains fine and her story is featured in my book, The Web-Savvy Patient.
Today Andrew Pollack, reporter for The New York Times, wrote a front page story about Dr. Lowy, hot chemo, and how other medical centers are now picking up on it for other advanced cancers including colon and ovarian. They are even advertising it as one last bit of hope when often there is virtually none. Now, some of the big names in GI cancers are suggesting this approach has merit and may offer longer survival then some super expensive drugs. There’s a debate going on.
Of course, for Jennifer there’s no debate and, as she says in her Powerful Patient video, the procedure was lifesaving.
I am fascinated by the different modalities that are used to fight cancer: new, targeted gene therapies (as we heard about this week in CLL), stem cell transplant, targeted radiation (like Proton), combination chemo, surgery (of course) and now heated chemo during surgery. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention thermal ablation of tumors in the liver and the like. Whew! The approaches are so varied and it is dizzying for patients to know which is the best bet for them.
I will continue to put my money on immunotherapy – getting your own immune system to recognize the cancer cells it missed the first time and kill them – maybe with the help of a designer pill or infused gene therapy. But, in the meantime, as Jennifer can swear, Dr. Lowy’s hot chemotherapy saved her life and helped give life to a little boy. The debate on the effectiveness of “hot chemo” continues, but, as reported today, more hospitals are adopting it for an expanded list of cancers even while the scientific jury is still out.
I welcome your comments.
*This blog post was originally published at Andrew's Blog*