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Keyhole op to fight off the colon cancer invading your liver: Doctors trial innovative technique that fights infection and aids recovery

Published on 22 March 2016 back to previous

For patients who have advanced colon cancer, the outlook was once bleak, but developments in scanning techniques and drug treatments mean that even those people whose tumours have spread may not be beyond help. And now sufferers have been thrown another lifeline: doctors are trialling an innovative surgical technique to remove secondary cancers that have spread to the liver.

The keyhole operation means patients are required to stay in hospital for a few days rather than a week with traditional open surgery. A team at Southampton General Hospital is leading the way, treating more than 600 patients since 2007.

Although any liver tumour can be tackled, a significant number of cases involve colon cancer that has spread to the organ. 

However, removing them through the traditional open operation is risky as they are often large or close to an artery.

Liver surgeon Mohammad Abu Hilal, who has developed the minimally invasive approach, called laparoscopic liver resection, says although it takes longer and is more complicated than conventional surgery, the advantages are reduced risk of infection, speedier recovery and, in repeat surgeries, easier access.

Multiple surgeries are commonplace for colon cancer with liver secondaries (metastesies), but with it comes the complication of having to go through old scar tissue. 

Mr Hilal says: ‘Cutting through an old surgical wound can be difficult and they sometimes don’t heal well, which leads to complications for the patient and a longer recovery.’

Thanks to ‘smarter’ operations, experts even hope advanced colon cancer will become a disease that can be kept at bay by removal of tumours when they appear on the liver.

‘We are extending survival by treating it like a chronic illness that you can live with. We see a tumour, we go in and remove, and the patient is able to go home after a few days,’ explains Mr Hilal. 

‘For a lot of patients we will treat them laparoscopically because it is convenient. If you have cancer that keeps coming back, you don’t want a major incision each time.’

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