In the fight against liver cancer, minimally invasive treatments are having a major impact
Vice President Peripheral Interventions EMEA, Jane Healy, at Boston Scientific

This article is authored by Jane Healy, vice president peripheral Interventions EMEA at Boston Scientific, and was originally published on LinkedIn for Liver Cancer Awareness Month in October 2020.

Nothing is more inspiring than watching an innovation take off and have a positive impact on people’s lives – and in my career, I’ve been lucky enough to be part of multiple projects to bring new technologies to market. Medical devices make a difference. We all have friends, family members or colleagues whose lives are affected by them, and it is an honour and a privilege to work in an industry whose focus is to save lives and improve quality of life for patients the world over.

October marks Liver Cancer Awareness Month – and while it’s amazing to see the progress already made in treating liver cancer, there is still much to be done. Intervention with medical device technologies has an important role to play here, in combination with other therapies.

Liver cancer is the world’s sixth most common cancer and the third leading cause of cancer mortality, with nearly 150,000 deaths every year in the EMEA region alone.1 While the rates of many cancers are decreasing, liver cancer is becoming more common: annual incidence in Europe has increased by over 25% in the last twelve years.1,2 Against this backdrop, I want to highlight the increasingly important role of interventional oncology (IO) procedures in the treatment of the disease, and the impact IO is having on doctors’ therapeutic strategies and patient outcomes.

Improving patient prognosis for a better life

IO incorporates a number of precise, proven and personalised therapies, performed by interventional radiologists. By specifically targeting the tumour(s), the effect on the rest of the body is limited and recovery times are quick – meaning IO therapies are patient-friendly and offer significant quality-of-life benefits, compared to other cancer treatments.

With liver cancer, one of the challenges in improving outcomes is catching it early. Curative treatments (i.e. those that can completely eradicate the cancer) have traditionally only been possible when the disease is diagnosed at an early stage. Most patients don’t experience symptoms until the cancer has progressed beyond this point to ‘intermediate-stage,’ so by the time they are diagnosed, they no longer qualify for curative options. However, IO therapies that are routinely used for the treatment of intermediate-stage are now so effective that in many cases, they can down-stage the cancer from intermediate- to early-stage, making the patient eligible for a curative treatment and significantly improving their prognosis.3,4 Such has been the impact and pace of innovation in IO approaches that survival expectations for liver cancer patients diagnosed with intermediate-stage disease in Europe more than doubled in the six years from 2012 to 2018.2,3

For patients with early-stage disease (whether achieved via down-staging or at initial diagnosis), liver transplant or surgical resection were once the only recommended curative options, but IO solutions are playing an increasingly important role here too, both as a first-line treatment and as ‘bridging’ therapy to stabilise the disease. Originally developed to keep liver cancer patients within transplant eligibility criteria while they waited for a suitable liver to become available, bridging has recently become a crucial strategy to delay disease progression in patients affected by the cancellation or postponement of any curative surgical procedure due to COVID-19.5

Therapy options for all stages of the patient journey

Recently, an IO therapy called selective internal radiation therapy (SIRT), already used in early- and intermediate-stage patients, has also been gaining acceptance as a viable alternative to systemic therapies for selected advanced-stage patients.6-8 This perfectly illustrates the importance of IO therapies: effective,  patient-friendly solutions having an impact on liver cancer at all stages of the patient journey, including situations where alternative options were once non-existent and left doctors with nowhere to go if the first-line and only approach failed. Armed with IO solutions, doctors can now choose the most appropriate strategy for each patient at every stage of their disease, taking into account multiple parameters, including their response to previous therapies. This personalised approach gives patients and their families real hope of an improved survival outcome – one with a better quality of life than would ever have been possible before the advent of IO. As recognition of these minimally invasive therapies grows, investment into research and innovation continues, and interventionalists and industry continue to work together, I am confident we can look forward to continued improvements in liver cancer outcomes.

Boston Scientific is committed to supporting doctors in driving progress in IO. The addition of the BTG Interventional Medicine portfolio, acquired just last year, reinforces our category leadership strategy and enables us to offer best-in-class technologies, unparalleled clinical evidence and a strengthened commercial infrastructure to support physicians in treating some of the most challenging diseases impacting patient health around the world. Together, we are working with our customers to transform the experience and outcomes of cancer patients. 

Join me in sharing this green ribbon to raise awareness of the disease burden of liver cancer and the significant change IO therapies are bringing to the fight against this disease.