Destruction of liver tumours by heat

Lead researcher

Professor Christopher Christophi, Mr Vijayaragavan Muralidharan, Professor Arthur Shulkes

Years funded

Bowel cancer is a major health problem in Australia with over 12,000 new cases diagnosed annually. Despite the best medical and surgical care, approximately 5,000 patients die from bowel cancer each year, predominantly due to spread to the liver.

In patients with liver spread, tumour eradication by either surgically removing or destroying the tumours is currently the only way to achieve possible cure. Destroying tumours by local (focal) application of heat (hyperthermia) is a particularly attractive treatment option. It can be performed on a day surgery basis, produces little discomfort and can be used in far more patients than those suitable for surgery.

A major problem with local application of heat to tumours is the high incidence of recurrences following therapy. This is also the major problem encountered with surgical removal of tumours. The recurrences following heat application are usually at the site of treatment or in other regions of the liver. The major limitations with focal hyperthermia in the treatment of liver tumours is a limited volume of tumour that can be destroyed and treatment may potentially modify tumour behaviour by altering growth and distribution patterns.

This project aims to investigate the factors involved in destruction of liver tumours following heat application and identify ways to maximize the area of tumour destroyed. In addition, it investigates patterns of tumour spread and growth following therapy and the mechanisms involved in this process.

These experiments could have a major impact on the treatment of liver cancer by identifying methods that ensure complete tumour destruction following heat application and prevent recurrences both at the treatment site and elsewhere in the liver. Focal hyperthermia has the potential to replace liver operations as the preferred treatment option in patients with liver tumours from bowel cancer spread, with overall significant patient and socio-economic benefits.