Targeting the Liver

New Liver Tumor Center unites technology and expertise

What does the liver have to do with colorectal cancer? Colorectal cancer may spread to the liver, an organ that purifies the blood and helps fight infection. In fact, at the time of diagnosis, up to 20-25% of colorectal cancer patients already have liver tumors, notes Boris Kuvshinoff, MD, MBA, FACS, Department of Surgical Oncology. 

Even if liver tumors are not present at diagnosis, they can develop during follow-up after treatment of the primary cancer. But even then, there’s hope: “Patients with colorectal cancer that metastasizes to the liver can still be cured,” says Dr. Kuvshinoff. “If you resect [surgically remove] the liver tumors—and you can remove them all and leave the patient with a healthy amount of normal liver—the patient does have a chance for a cure. In properly selected patients, you can have about a 50% chance of five-year survival.”

Unfortunately, about 75% of patients with liver tumors will not be able to undergo surgery, due to other medical conditions, or the size and location of the tumors. And because the liver is dense with blood vessels—including the large hepatic artery and the portal vein—there is a risk of significant bleeding in patients who can have surgery. Those are just two reasons “very few people want to take care of liver tumors,” points out Roswell Park’s Surgeon-in-Chief, William Cance, MD, FACS.

“Liver surgery is fairly complex,” agrees Dr. Kuvshinoff. “Typically it’s done by surgeons who have had additional training and a focus in that area. You need to do a lot of it, and often. It is a complex surgery, so you definitely want to do it in a setting where you have good support from an anesthesia team, surgical team, Intensive Care Unit team, and interventional radiology team.”

Patients with liver tumors have access to a range of treatment options at Roswell Park, where a Liver and Pancreas Tumor Center is now available. The Center will unite advanced technology, novel therapies, and the expertise of clinicians from Surgery, Medicine, Radiology, and Radiation Medicine.

“We can introduce treatments that are novel to this field, including some that are very close to being offered through clinical trials,” says Dr. Cance.