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Fox Chase Cancer Center Offers Selective Internal Radiation Therapy (SIRT); Acrylic Spheres Carry Radioactive Element Directly to Tumor

PHILADELPHIA (November 30, 2002) -- Fox Chase Cancer Center physicians are offering a new treatment for people diagnosed with cancer that has spread to the liver and for people with primary liver cancer. The treatment is called SIRT, or Selective Internal Radiation Therapy.

SIRT allows a doctor to deliver radiation treatment directly to the tumor by injecting tiny spheres into the body, usually into the main artery that delivers blood to the liver - the hepatic artery. The spheres, made with a porous acrylic, contain a radioactive element called Yttrium-90.

The healthy liver tissue derives most its blood from another blood vessel, the portal vein, therefore, if the spheres are introduced into the hepatic artery, they will be carried preferentially to the cancer and not extensively to healthy liver tissue. Because the high dose of radiation from the spheres is selectively delivered to the tumor, other parts of the body usually are not affected.

"Treatment with SIRT can cause the liver tumor to shrink or be eliminated in people with inoperable tumors. If the tumor shrinks enough, surgical removal is possible. This can result in improved survival or cure for some patients," explained Douglas Coldwell, Ph.D., M.D., an interventional radiologist at Fox Chase Cancer Center.

"The microspheres are very small, about the size of talcum powder particles," said Coldwell. "The procedure to deliver the spheres takes about an hour and is done with local anesthesia. It usually does not require an overnight hospital stay."

Since the spheres are delivered directly to the tumor area, few side effects occur. Serious side effects are not common. Many patients develop a fever and tiredness that may last for up to a week. Some patients also develop pain in the abdomen for a few hours after the administration of the spheres, but the pain can be treated easily with medication.

Fox Chase Cancer Center is the only cancer center in the Delaware Valley treating cancer with SIRT. SIRT was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2002. It is being investigated for the treatment other cancers.

Each year it is estimated that 130,000 men and women will be diagnosed with colon cancer. Unfortunately, the cancer will or spread (metastasize) to the liver in nearly 50,000 of those patients. 16,600 people will be diagnosed with primary liver cancer. Other tumors that commonly spread to the liver include breast, kidney, lung and ovarian cancers. Common treatments for these liver tumors include chemotherapy and often surgery.


Fox Chase Cancer Center, part of the Temple University Health System, is one of the leading cancer research and treatment centers in the United States. Founded in 1904 in Philadelphia as one of the nation’s first cancer hospitals, Fox Chase was also among the first institutions to be designated a National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center in 1974. Fox Chase researchers have won the highest awards in their fields, including two Nobel Prizes. Fox Chase physicians are also routinely recognized in national rankings, and the Center’s nursing program has received the Magnet recognition for excellence four consecutive times. Today, Fox Chase conducts a broad array of nationally competitive basic, translational, and clinical research, with special programs in cancer prevention, detection, survivorship, and community outreach.  For more information, call 1-888-FOX CHASE or (1-888-369-2427).

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