8 Sep 2011

Shake and Bake Surgery

I read an article in The New York Times on the weekend entitled "Hot Chemotherapy Bath: Patients See Hope, Critics Hold Doubts" written by Andrew Pollack.  The article invoked several emotions in me including outrage - outrage over comments like surgeons competing for cancer patients by offering a "technique that has almost no basis in science" and "you can't make a living doing this procedure in appendix cancer patients" (meaning that appendix cancer is so obscure you need a broader base of cancers to treat to make it profitable). 

The surgical technique referred to is a costly and controversial procedure which involves the standard surgical removal of the patient's tumour(s), then pumping heated chemotherapy into the abdomen, gently rocking and massaging the patient's innards and finally suturing the incision.  The theory is to flood the abdomen with heated chemo putting it in direct contact with any microscopic cells as opposed to using conventional systemic chemotherapy. 

Some of America's leading medical centers have been offering this to colorectal and ovarian cancer patients for some time now.  When I'd first learned of this technique it was labelled "shake and bake surgery" - for obvious reasons.

When new cancer drugs are discovered they typically go through an in vitro stage - whereby the drug is exposed to the cancer cell directly, followed by a stage where cancer cells are injected into mice, where the drug's efficacy is further analysed, then finally, human clinical trials.  It's very disconcerting to read about procedures which on the surface seem logical, but now discover that they have "no basis in science".  It's alarming to read that the survival rate for patients undergoing this radical therapy is basically the same as those receiving regular chemotherapy  however, the risks are considerably higher and the recovery time is as long as six months.
The only reward therefore, seems to be the surgeon's desire to expand his/her repertoire and paycheck.  Sadly, another false hope.

1 comment:

Mike B. said...

My wife was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. A year later we learned of this treatment. Now one year after surgery/heated chemotherapy she has no detectable cancer for 3 CT scans in a row. Her CEA blood test is 1.3 (3 or less is normal). She was not expected to live this long, let alone be apparently cancer free. Don't lell me it is only to expand a surgeon's reportoire/pay check.