Doctors using tiny beads to kill cancer



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Posted on October 20, 2009 at 12:20 PM

Updated Friday, Jan 4 at 10:44 AM

More than one million people are diagnosed with liver cancer every year. The majority die within the next 12 months. That's because 90 percent of the patients have tumors that are either too large or too complicated for surgery. Now doctors are turning to a powerful treatment that uses tiny beads to kill the cancer.

Doug Waldron beat the odds. Doctors said his time was up.

"Four to six weeks, I think it was," said Doug, who had liver cancer.

"We've been together 40 years, and to me it's not enough time yet," said Denise Waldron, Doug's wife.

Doug had lung cancer, but doctors were more concerned about the 10-inch cancerous tumor in his liver.

"Something like a cantaloupe in his liver," Dr. Mary Mulcahy, oncologist at Northwest Memorial Hospital.

Doctors couldn't operate because the tumor was too big. They turned to a treatment called targeted radiation. In Doug's case, they injected six million radioactive beads into the tumor. Each bead, which is smaller than the width of a strand of hair, emits radiation to kill the cancer.

"So really, it is a really high dose of radiation concentrated in a very, very small area," said Dr. Riad Salem, interventional radiologist.

The treatment made Doug sick for a month.

"I knew it going in that if this did not work there was nothing more that could be done. It was over," he said.

But his scans told a different story. Over time, the size of the tumor regressed more and more.

"And low and behold, nearly all of the tumors completely dissolved and disappeared," said Doug.

Doug also had lung cancer surgery. Within a year, he went from terminal to cancer-free.

"He's the man of my life. Life wouldn't be worth living without him," said Doug's wife Denise.

"Without her, I don't think I would've made it," said Doug, who had strong treatments and an even stronger will to survive.

Not all patients experience side effects. The treatment is available at the University of Washington.