Burgeoning Field of Interventional Oncology Is Poised for Takeoff: A Q&A With Dan Brown, MD

Andrew J. Roth
Published: Thursday, Dec 05, 2013
Dan Brown, MD,

Dan Brown, MD

Interventional oncology is an emerging field in cancer care that is intended to complement existing treatment modalities. We sat down with Dan Brown, MD, the new chief of Interventional Oncology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, to discuss the burgeoning field and its potential effect on cancer care moving forward.

OBTN: What is interventional oncology and how does it fit in with the current cancer treatment paradigm?

Dr. Brown: Interventional oncology uses image-guided technology to directly target solid tumors. It’s a complementary intervention that I hope will eventually be integrated into standard care algorithms. It gives clinicians another focused area of cancer care in which we can collaborate with other specialists. We perform targeted procedures that can be characterized as either arterial or ablative. Interventional oncology, and to some extent interventional radiology, also involves the use of biopsies for genomics analysis, in a similar way as other oncologic specialists use biopsies to help guide their biological therapies or systemic therapies.

Which patients are likely candidates for interventional oncology and how are they identified?

Vanderbilt is the second place in the country to have a formal division of interventional oncology and a backbone of our program is tumor boards. I participate in at least three tumor boards a week involving specialists in gastrointestinal oncology, liver transplantation, and neuroendocrine tumors.

The cornerstone tumor for interventional oncology is probably hepatocellular carcinoma. Chemoembolization is one of the older procedures that we perform dating back to 1980. And it became standard of care because, quite frankly, there was nothing else for years that did anything. Now we perform it very frequently. We see this in the transplant population or potential transplant population— we want to prevent patients from progressing beyond Milan criteria or to try to downstage patients back to Milan criteria if they’re beyond it.

In patients with colorectal cancer, we can either try to get a patient to surgery with portal vein embolization or we will perform radioembolization of liver metastases or ablation of liver metastases based on where they stand with their chemotherapy. If patients get toxicity from chemotherapy, particularly neurotoxicity after FOLFOX, and have residual liver disease, sometimes we treat them to give them time off of systemic therapy.

We treat a lot of patients with neuroendocrine tumors here at Vanderbilt. We perform radioembolization and bland embolization for those patients. For patients with hepatocellular and colorectal metastases, our first goal is to get them to surgery, either transplant or resection, as these treatments are potentially curative.

Can you discuss in detail some of the procedures involved with interventional oncology?

There are two main techniques that we perform— arterial interventions and ablation. For liver cancer, arterial treatment involves threading a catheter through the femoral artery to reach the primary tumor (Figure 1). The strategy is to use the tumor’s vasculature to deliver microscopic beads that contain radioactive materials or chemotherapy into the tumor. The beads leach out the chemotherapy over the course of several weeks.

Figure 1. Hepatocellular carcinoma in a poor surgical candidate. The goal was to limit progression of disease through arterial intervention to allow transplant.

Hepatocellular carcinoma in a poor surgical candidate

a. 3-cm mass in the right lobe of the liver.

b. Catheter selecting the artery supplying the mass with enhancement of the tumor.

c. Complete tumor necrosis at follow-up imaging.

We can also infuse radioembolics in a similar way. There are two devices available—one is made of glass and the other is made of resin. In our practice, we’re treating more and more people with the radioembolic treatment because it’s an outpatient procedure. We’re starting to accumulate more data using the radioembolic treatment, especially for colon cancer and neuroendocrine tumors.

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