Patients fight cancers with heated chemotherapy

Patients fight cancers with heated chemotherapy

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Cancers in the abdominal cavity can be difficult to treat. But, a new form of heated chemotherapy may help patients like Venus Lopez.

The single mother of three will never forget the moment she heard those words. She says, “When they told me ‘You have cancer.’ I was, like, Oh, my God! Why me?” Lopez’s battle was just beginning. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008. Then, four years later, a doctor found melanoma in that same breast.

Then, ovarian cancer. Lopez says, “I said, you know what? I have my kids! I am going to fight this!”

She’d have to find the strength to fight one more cancer, in her appendix. That December, Lopez gave her doctor an ultimatum.

She wanted to be home for Christmas with her children. She made it home Christmas Eve.

Oncologist Dr. Rajesh Nair says Lopez has done very well on a new treatment called HIPEC. He says, “That’s an acronym for “Hyperthermic Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy.” Right now, HIPEC is being used for cancers contained within the abdominal cavity. The chemo is delivered during surgery.

First, the surgeon removed the cancer that is visible. Then, a sterile solution is heated and circulated through the patient’s body for up to two hours.

This helps to kill off remaining cancer cells than cannot be seen.

Dr. Nair says, “The main benefit of HIPEC is it allows us to attack the cancer in a slightly different way. Traditional chemotherapy is delivered through the veins.

But that’s also one of the problems: its toxicity to the rest of the body.”

Traditional chemo can cause nausea, vomiting and hair loss. HIPEC doesn’t. Nair says, HIPEC is “delivered directly into that (abdominal) space, so the penetration of the drug into the bloodstream is limited.”

There are side effects to HIPEC. At first Lopez lost her appetite. Then, she lost a lot of weight. She says, “I remember the doctor saying, ‘You’re going to get better. Just be patient. You’re going to get better.’ And, I got better. He was right."

Dr. Nair says, “In patients who have difficult situations, such as this, to be able to offer them something, to give them more hope, to prolong their live, and at a good quality of life, that is something very important to all of us.”

Patients who undergo HIPEC typically stay in the hospital for a couple of weeks after their procedure. Right now, HIPEC is primarily used to treat adult cancer patients. If you think you might be a good candidate, talk to your oncologist about HIPEC and which surgeons might be offering the treatment in your area.

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