A tiny, yet powerful beam of light may be buying Nancy Collins and patients like her precious time. Nancy has bile duct cancer. It's hard to detect, and even tougher to cure.
"When you have this biliary duct cancer, it's bad," Nancy said. "There's not much hope for you."
The bile ducts carry bile through the liver into the intestines to help the body digest food. When cancer develops here, they become blocked, causing infections and liver damage. Surgery is the only cure, but in two-thirds of all cases, the location of the tumor makes that impossible. Surgeons at Thomas Jefferson University hospital are using a new procedure for patients who can't have surgery.
During photo-dynamic therapy, patients receive an IV drug that makes the cancer cells sensitive to a laser. A scope goes from the mouth to the small intestine and into the bile ducts. Then doctors insert the laser which kills the cancer cells but leaves normal tissue intact.
"It keeps the bile ducts open longer. It kills some of the tumor," David Loren, MD, Associate Director of Medical Endoscopy at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital said. "Sometimes we even see the tumor shrink, but it's not a cure."
The therapy gives patients back their quality of life and just might extend their lives
"I guess a couple of years, yes," Nancy said.
For Nancy, that's time to see a granddaughter off to prom, spend another holiday with loved ones and celebrate sixty years of marriage.
Doctor Loren says the PDT treatment can be repeated every three months. The one major side effect is susceptibility to sunburn. The doctor tells us the treatment has extended the lives of some bile duct cancer patients from one to three years.