Benefis Cancer Patients Benefit from Innovative Chemotherapy Treatment

A Benefis Health System patient in her 70s recently was able to take part in an innovative form of chemotherapy that in years past would have been considered too rigorous for someone her age.

Dr. Victor Phuoc of Great Falls Surgical Associates combined robot-assisted surgery with an abdominal chemotherapy bath in treating the woman for colon cancer.

“I’m sure it will extend her survival,” he said.

Phuoc has introduced hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC) to Great Falls. It’s an alternative to intravenous chemotherapy. IVs deliver chemotherapy drugs into the blood stream, but that isn’t as effective at reaching certain places in the body.

That’s particularly true for people with peritoneal mesothelioma, which is cancer of the lining of the abdomen, as well as colorectal cancer. Those cancers are on areas of the body that don’t get as much blood flow, so traditional chemotherapy isn’t as effective.

The treatment also is useful for cancer of the appendix, which can result in pseudomyxoma peritonei. That’s a rare condition called “jelly belly” where the tumor in the appendix produces a mucinous, jelly-like fluid that fills up the abdomen. It can cause swelling, digestive problems, intestinal failure, and even death.

Since arriving in the community in November, Dr. Phuoc has found a population that’s older but more resilient. His new surgery technique makes the most of that added vigor, expanding the eligible population for the treatment.

HIPEC once required an incision down the entire abdomen. Surgery to remove the cancer and bathe the abdomen in chemotherapy lasted as long as 30 hours. That’s hard on patients. 

Phuoc aims for seven hours or less for the procedure, with the chemotherapy lasting for one 60-90-minute session to attack any microscopic remainders of the disease, stopping them before they can develop new tumors. The warmed chemotherapy drugs are circulated with a modified cardiac bypass machine.

“The traditional procedure would cut open the entire length of your abdomen, which results in complications and delays in recovery for many patients as it’s quite traumatic,” he said. “This technique drastically reduced the post-operative recovery time.”