HIPEC surgery: The future of cancer treatment

Doctors say treatment doesn't require weekly chemo

Author: Matt Papaycik, Producer, mpapaycik@wkmg.com
Published On: Aug 09 2013 10:55:58 AM EDT   Updated On: Aug 09 2013 11:57:39 PM EDT
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ORLANDO, Fla. -

For cancer patients, getting a tumor removed is just one part of the battle.

After that, you're dealing with months of long, grueling chemotherapy.

But now, there's a groundbreaking treatment in Central Florida that patients say is saving their lives and cutting their recovery time in half.

"It's just a scary thing to think about," says Paige Leffler, who was diagnosed with cancer of the appendix at just 28 years old. "Had I waited any longer, there's a very good chance that I wouldn't be here."

But today, Leffler is here -- and, more importantly, cancer-free.

"Every doctor that came in, they were just in awe of how young I was," says Leffler. "It was just kind of like a whirlwind. My stomach hurt a lot, I thought I had heartburn."

But it turned out to be something much worse. Leffler had a pair of tumors in her appendix that led to intense pain and swelling.

"It did shock me, but you just got to move on and you just got to think positive," says Leffler.

For help, she turned to Dr. Rajesh Nair at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Orlando.

His solution for Paige wasn't a cocktail of weekly chemo. Instead, he offered her a groundbreaking surgery called HIPEC.

"This is the future of chemotherapy to some extent," says Leffler. "The treatment is typically a one-time treatment."

That's what makes HIPEC so appealing. You can kill the cancer in one shot.

First, your tumor is removed. Then, doctors pump a powerful, heated chemical into your affected organ for almost two hours. Dr. Nair says the temperature of the fluid is what makes this so effective.

"We know that cancer cells in general are more susceptible to damage from heat than our normal cells," says Dr. Nair.

In the end, the treatment is more targeted on one area. That means there are fewer side effects to the rest of your body.

"If you think of the typical effects that you hear about with chemotherapy -- the nausea, the vomiting, hair loss -- we don't see that with this therapy," says Dr. Nair. "We don't need to do this again and again like traditional I.V. chemotherapy."

That was the case for Paige Leffler, who had her surgery last November, and was back to work less than three months later.

"Had it been traditional chemotherapy, I'd probably still be getting treatments right now," says Leffler. "Instead, I don't have to see a doctor on a regular basis. I can just live my life the way that I wanted to and the way that I lived before. I really do think that this treatment saved my life."

Right now, the HIPEC surgery is only being used on patients with abdominal tumors -- like stomach, colon, appendix, even ovarian cancer.

But, Dr. Nair says it could soon go after lung cancer, and severe skin cancer that's confined to your leg or arm.

As for the cost -- Dr. Nair says that most health insurance plans cover this.

Keep in mind -- this procedure comes with its own side effects.

Paige Leffler says her stomach was sore for a couple months, and she lost her appetite and a lot of weight.

But, in the end, she thinks that HIPEC beats the grind of weekly chemo treatments.

For more information about the HIPEC treatment, visit the website for MD Anderson Cancer Center in Orlando by clicking here.