12-9-19 Cutting-edge chemo treatment.jpg

DURHAM, N.C. - Rita LaFlamme has 57 years of memories and counting with her husband, Bob.

"We have two sons and two grandchildren,

said LaFlamme.

But both were stunned when LaFlamme was diagnosed with stage-four colorectal cancer last year. Every year, nearly 140,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with colorectal cancer. In up to a quarter of those, it has spread to the liver.

When standard chemotherapy stops working, many patients are left with few options. Now, doctors at Duke University are offering a treatment called hepatic artery infusion, using a pump.

"The pump, which is a battery-powered motorized pump, is surgically implanted into a pocket in the abdominal wall," said Dr. Michael Lidsky, a surgical oncologist at Duke University Medical Center.

The pump provides a direct dose of concentrated chemo to the liver.

"Those concentrations actually reach somewhere between three and 400 times the concentration that we would be able to get if we gave it intravenously," Lidsky said.

So far, the results have been dramatic. Lidsky said the treatment is used in combination with standard chemo and has been shown to double the survival rate.

"It's pumping on the tumor and I'm not feeling a thing," said LaFlamme.

LaFlamme said the treatment is working to shrink her tumor, and she hopes to have surgery to remove it soon.

"I know I can beat this," LaFlamme said. "I have no doubt in my mind that I will. I will beat it."

More time means more memories for LaFlamme.

Lidsky said hepatic artery infusion is not a cure, but it can be used pre- or post-surgery to shrink tumors in patients with metastatic colorectal cancer to the liver. Right now, the treatment is only being offered at a handful of centers around the country, including Duke and Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York. The pump stays in the patient for years and can be used again if the disease recurs. Patients need to be fit and have liver-dominant disease only to be a good candidate.