Published: August 11, 2011
SAN DIEGO — This is cancer therapy at its most aggressive, a treatment patients liken to being filleted, disemboweled and then bathed in hot poison.
The therapy, which couples extensive abdominal surgery with blasts of heated chemotherapy to the abdominal cavity and its organs, was once a niche procedure used mainly against rare cancers of the appendix. Most academic medical centers shunned it.
More recently, as competition for patients and treatments intensifies, an increasing number of the nation’s leading medical centers has been offering the costly — and controversial — therapy to patients with the more common colorectal or ovarian cancers. And some hospitals are even publicizing the treatment as a hot “chemo bath.”
To critics, the therapy is merely the latest example of one that catches on with little evidence that it really works. “We’re practicing this technique that has almost no basis in science,” said Dr. David P. Ryan, clinical director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center.
But to some patients, the procedure, however grueling and invasive, represents their best hope for survival: “It’s throwing everything but the kitchen sink at cancer,” said Gloria Borges, a 29-year-old Los Angeles lawyer who had her colon cancer treated with what she called the “pick it out, pour it in” procedure.