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Tuesday, 27 March, 2001, 17:32 GMT 18:32 UK
Limbs saved by cancer pioneers
The technique helps patients with inoperable tumours
A revolutionary technique which could prevent some cancer patients losing whole limbs has been tried for the first time in the UK.

Patients with certain types of tumour find that an arm or a leg has to be amputated to halt the spread of the disease.

Powerful chemotherapy could shrink the tumour - but would damage vital body organs in the process.

However, the breakthrough by experts at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London involves cutting off the blood supply to the affected limb so that high doses can be given with far less danger.

So far, 12 patients have undergone the therapy, with their tumours, previously considered inoperable, all being totally or partially destroyed by the chemotherapy with no ill-effects elsewhere.

During the procedure, called "isolated limb profusion", the main arteries and veins carrying blood to and from the limb are clamped shut.

Bypass machine

A bypass machine is used to keep oxygenated blood flowing around the arm so that tissues do not begin to die.

Then huge doses of a drug called TNF alpha are given to shrink the tumour.

Some growths the size of footballs have melted away under the onslaught of chemotherapy doses 10 times more than could normally be given.

Peter Barry, a clinical research fellow in surgical oncology at the Royal Marsden, said: "These kinds of doses would normally kill a patient if they were carried to major organs, so patients have to be monitored very carefully for any signs of leakage."

The whole procedure takes little over an hour and a half.

The technique has been used to help patients with melanoma - the most dangerous form of skin cancer.

And the Royal Marsden team has now extended the work to patients with sarcomas - a cancer of bone.

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