Computer Pump Makes Chemotherapy 'Kinder, Gentler,' Doctors Say
Apr 22, 2006 1:30 AM PT
In the art house film, "Wit," Emma Thompson plays an always-acerbic college English professor whose approach to life is challenged by the sudden onset of cancer, and the resultant treatment of chemotherapy. The chemotherapy regime is often worse than the cancer itself, what with countless visits to the hospital, as the film demonstrates, quite ably.
New computer technology is changing all that. A portable, computerized pump small enough to fit in a fanny pack is altering the way cancer patients can receive their chemotherapy. The technology, developed in Europe and imported to the U.S. by the Block Center for Integrative Cancer Care (BCICC), based in Evanston, Ill., enables cancer patients to receive their chemotherapy at a time when it will be most effective and least toxic.
"This technology allows for larger doses to be delivered more frequently, with higher efficacy and lower toxicity. It's kinder, gentler and at the same time, more aggressive and effective," Dr. William Hrushesky, a senior clinical investigator at the Dorn Veterans Administration Medical Center in South Carolina, told TechNewsWorld.
Whenever, Wherever Treatment
With this new pump, the timing of the therapeutic infusion is administered based on the biological uniqueness of the particular drug being given and the time when the specific type of cancer cells divide.
"This creates a better kill rate for the cancer and less toxicity to the healthy cells, because the healthy cells of the patient are generally at rest when the cancer cells are most active, or dividing," said Keith Block, a medical doctor, who is the medical and scientific director of the BCICC.
"The infusion of the chemotherapy drug using this pump starts slowly and ratchets up, hour by hour. It slowly increases to the middle point of the cycle, peaks, infuses most of the drug and then slowly ratchets back down, to no drug, where the cycle is completed."
Dr. Block said that he has often found that patients receiving their chemotherapy this way reduce what would have been recurring side effects of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and fatigue. This is vital because -- just as in the movie "Wit," and in countless real-life dramas, the debilitation caused by chemotherapy may cause patients to reduce, or, what's worse, even stop treatments that could otherwise help them.
Current research shows that up to one third of chemotherapy patients abandon treatments prematurely due to the side effects, Dr. Block told TechNewsWorld.
Studies published in medical journals, including the Journal of Clinical Oncology, Lancet Oncology, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute and Chronobiology International, demonstrate that this groundbreaking technology decreases toxicity and improves survival.
Return to Normalcy
Since the pump is portable, cancer patients no longer have to go to chemotherapy wards at hospitals. They can now participate in normal daily activities such as walking, jogging, cooking, sleeping and even playing with their children, while their treatments are administered. "Even after prior treatments have failed patients, using these pumps to administer chemotherapy has enabled us to re-challenge these same patients with the identical drug regimen, and this time around gotten successful results," said Dr. Block.
Dennis Simmons, who was treated with conventional chemotherapy for his colon cancer, first diagnosed in 2001, can attest to the efficacy of the new, computerized, portable treatment. After two treatments, Simmons decided that he would "rather die" than face another round of traditional chemo, and the dreadful side effects that accompanied his treatments. Simmons tried chemo through the computerized pump as a "last resort." Using this technology enabled him to still participate in his life, and to enjoy his life. He's extremely pleased with his decision. His most recent scans show no sign of disease.
To be sure, Simmons did have some setbacks. The cancer did return -- as it often does even with conventional chemotherapy, but he is now on the path to recovery once again.
Technological revolutions like these, which return otherwise sick people to a normal life -- may be the true gift to of the information revolution.