Q: What is isolated limb infusion?
A: Isolated limb infusion is a minimally invasive procedure used to deliver high doses of chemotherapy to recurrent melanomas or sarcomas in the arms or legs. The procedure requires the coordination of a team of specialists from multiple disciplines, including surgery, interventional radiology, anesthesiology and pharmacy. During the procedure, a tourniquet is used to isolate the limb and an infusion circuit is set up within the affected arm or leg, which allows the medical team to deliver maximum heated chemotherapy doses to the tumor without the cancer-fighting drug going throughout the entire body.
Q: Who can be treated with this procedure?
A: The procedure can be used to treat a subgroup of patients who develop recurrent melanoma or sarcoma in an extremity following the standard surgical treatment. It is not useful as the initial treatment of choice for a newly discovered single melanoma confined to the extremity; however, if the melanoma were to recur and be confined to an extremity, then the treatment may be of significant benefit. It is also helpful for a subset of patients with sarcoma that have advanced tumors for which there are limited treatment options.
Q: What are the results?
A: About 2/3 of patients derive significant benefit from the treatment and have a complete response or complete disappearance of the tumor or a partial response or significant shrinkage of the tumor. These responses are quite good compared to those to other available treatment options. It is an excellent option for those left with no other treatment options, or those confronted with amputation.
Q: Why is melanoma such a dangerous cancer?
A: If caught early, melanoma is curable. Problems arise when it is not caught early, because it is a cancer that spreads quickly to other vital organs, such as the lymph nodes and lungs. According to the American Cancer Society, melanoma accounts for fewer than five percent of all skin cancer cases but is the leading cause of death from skin cancer. In addition, the number of new cases of melanoma has been rising steadily. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2011 there will be 70,230 new cases of melanoma and 8,790 deaths caused by the disease. (1)
(1) American Cancer Society. How many people get melanoma? Revised 6/21/2011. <http://www.cancer.org/Cancer/SkinCancer-Melanoma/OverviewGuide/melanoma-skin-cancer-overview-key-statistics> September 8, 2011.