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Rare Cancer Surgery Available at MeritCare Featured On Greys Anatomy TV Show

A Sanford-MeritCare surgeon is performing a unique abdominal cancer surgery called HIPEC. Featured on ABC's Grey's Anatomy (Jan. 21, 2010), the procedure is only available at 35 medical centers in the United States. Cancer involving the abdominal lining can be very difficult to treat. HIPEC gives patients new hope.

Dr. Robert Sticca, MeritCare surgeon, is performing a unique cancer surgery called HIPEC (Hyperthermic Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy). It's also known as heated chemotherapy or chemo bath. Featured on ABC's Grey's Anatomy (Jan. 21, 2010), the procedure is only available at 35 medical centers in the United States.

For Dr. Sticca's patient John Jambois, the surgery meant a second chance. Jambois was diagnosed with pseudomyxoma peritonei (cancer in the lining of his abdomen) in November 2004. He underwent traditional chemotherapy and surgery at Mayo Clinic. Then in 2009, he had a recurrence of his cancer. He had surgery to remove the tumors followed by HIPEC in May 2009. Jambois continues to do well with no recurrence to date.

HIPEC is performed on cancers that are confined to the abdomen— including gastric, colorectal, appendix and ovarian. Before HIPEC, patients with some abdominal cancers didn't have many options because it was difficult to get traditional chemo to the abdominal cavity. HIPEC gives patients new hope. The treatment success rate varies anywhere from 75 to 90 percent for certain cancers, before it was almost always fatal.

HIPEC can take up to 18 hours. Not all patients qualify; they are carefully selected based on a variety of factors. After surgically removing the tumor(s), tubes are inserted through small incisions and a heated chemotherapy solution is pumped in, flooding the abdomen with continuously circulated liquid drugs to bathe the affected area.

"The heat is important as it helps kill cancer cells, even those not visible, because they are more sensitive to the heat than normal cells. Heat also helps open the pours of the tissue so the chemo will penetrate further," said Dr. Sticca. "The combination of the heat and chemotherapy work together to eradicate all remaining cancer cells."

Unlike regular chemotherapy, HIPEC is not absorbed into the patient's circulation, which means doctors can use a higher dose of chemo with no side effects such as nausea or hair loss. This is especially good news for patients needing HIPEC, as they've likely had various other treatments in the past.