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How a targeted chemo treatment from the 90s is killing today's colorectal cancer

Chemo is a harsh drug that ravishes the body. But now, a 1990s delivery system used to target some of the hardest to treat cancers is proving promising.

CHICAGO — Approximately 1.8 million people will be told they have cancer this year. The first line of defense usually involves chemotherapy, and the number of people who will need chemo is expected to double in the next 20 years. It’s a harsh drug that ravages the body while killing cancer cells. 

Now, a new study supports a delivery system used in the nineties to target some of the hardest to treat cancers, without impacting the rest of the body.

Stephen Lynch was thrown a curve ball a few years ago when a colonoscopy revealed he had cancer.

“A fear shoots through you. You go from, ‘I’m healthy’ to, ‘I have a mass.’, Stephen says.

Then, his thoughts went to his kids, Alex and Caroline.

“I wanna see them grow up, and the idea that you might have some disease that robs you of being able to see that is really sad,” Stephen expresses.

Chemo and surgery held it at bay for a year, but then two lesions showed up in his liver. It had advanced to stage four. His care team at Northwestern Memorial Hospital recommended the only FDA-approved HAI pump that delivers chemo directly to the liver.

“It's the size of a hockey puck, and we install it in the abdominal wall,” explains Director of the GI Oncology Regional Therapies Program at the Lurie Cancer Center at Northwestern Medicine. Ryan Merkow, MD.

A catheter attaches to the pump, delivering chemo into a main artery feeding into the liver.

Dr. Merkow further explains, “It's unique in that we can deliver very high doses of chemotherapy into the liver at concentrations of three to 400 times what the liver would normally seek compared to systemic chemotherapy.”

The chemo doesn’t exit the liver and doesn’t affect the rest of the body. With standard chemo, Stephen had a 50 percent chance of no recurrence, but with the new pump, his chances increase to 80 percent.

A recent scan showed no evidence of cancer, allowing Stephen to stop worrying about cancer and focus on his family.

Stephen emphasizes, “I know I’ve got today. I know everything's good, right now. So, let's live it up and enjoy that.”

Stephen Lynch is one of 106,000 new cases of colorectal cancer diagnosed each year. The rate of people being diagnosed with colorectal cancer each year has dropped significantly since the mid-1980s, mainly due to the fact people are getting screened earlier. The American Cancer Society recommends that people at average risk of colorectal cancer get their first colonoscopy at age 45 and then every 10 years after that.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Shelby Kluver at shelby.kluver@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.


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