When Jim O’Brien learned he had liver cancer last year during an emergency room visit while on vacation in Florida, he could hardly believe the news. He didn’t think it was possible because there was no history of cancer in his family. Unfortunately, a CT scan showed otherwise.
Upon returning home, O’Brien followed up with his cardiologist, who referred him to an internist. It was confirmed–O’Brien had multifocal primary liver cancer. He was then sent to an oncologist, who suggested engaging in a six-week study through a downtown Chicago hospital, but the cancer was aggressive and O’Brien did not respond well to treatment. “The pills [from the study] were tearing me down. I was deteriorating. I lost 30 lbs. in a very short time,” said O’Brien. “My oncologist said chemo wouldn’t work if I couldn’t tolerate the pills and told me I wouldn’t make it to Christmas, which was a few months away.”
As a final resort, O’Brien was referred to Joshua Tepper, M.D., an interventional radiologist at Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center (PSJMC), who performs radioembolization. Radioembolization is a cutting-edge, outpatient treatment for liver cancer that involves an injection of radioactive yttrium 90 (Y90). The radioactive beads attach to the small arteries of the liver next to a colony of cancer cells. Within days, oxygen carrying the blood supply to the cancer tumor(s) is decreased and the high levels of beta radiation begin to kill the cancer cells. O’Brien’s treatment day consisted of a painless, one hour procedure. Today, O’Brien’s multiple liver tumors are virtually gone.
“Liver cancer is difficult to treat, especially with traditional external beam radiation therapy, because the liver is fairly dense,” said Dr. Tepper. “High doses of external beam radiation can damage healthy liver cells, but with radioembolization, only the cancer cells are targeted and killed, making it an ideal procedure for aggressive liver cancers.”
PSJMC is the only community hospital in the surrounding area offering radioembolization. Dr. Tepper has performed 15 procedures with successful outcomes since bringing the technology to the hospital, just last year. To expand cancer care at PSJMC, Dr. Tepper has helped facilitate the addition of a surgical oncologist.
“The addition of a surgical oncologist puts us on par with academic institutions and allows us to care for a wider array of patients locally,” said Dr. Tepper.
Radioembolization can be used for both primary liver cancers as well as cancers that have spread to the liver such as breast or colon cancer. Now, patients have the benefit of receiving treatment close to home with the conveniences and comforts of a community hospital setting.
A Frankfort resident, O’Brien was thrilled to find Dr. Tepper treats patients so close to home and was relieved that he wouldn’t have to travel to a large Chicago hospital for the liver cancer treatment that would save his life.
Dr. Tepper added, “We work closely with our patients, making sure they are getting the attention and care they need when they need it. Everyone on our team becomes familiar with our patients, making them feel right at home.”
“With the reassurance Dr. Tepper gave me, I had no doubt radioembolization would work,” said O’Brien. “Dr. Tepper and his team worked closely with me to help me build my body back up before the procedure. I hadn’t been able to eat or walk my usual three miles a day. I didn’t have the energy to do anything following that cancer study, but Dr. Tepper gave me hope and it worked.”
Today, O’Brien is back to being active and walking up to one mile a day, with the goal of steadily increasing his stamina.
Talent Meets Technology for Life Saving Results
Pictured: Joshua Tepper, M.D., Interventional Radiologist at Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center
Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center is a regional referral center recognized for overall Clinical Excellence. Recently named to the “Top Hospitals” in Chicagoland area by Chicago magazine, St. Joseph Medical Center serves Will and surrounding counties, including the southwest Chicago suburbs. The medical center, located in Joliet, offers private patient rooms and world-class health care. Designated as a Primary Stroke Center, Presence Neuroscience Institute also provides 24/7 neurosurgeons, neurologists and neuroendovascular interventionalists. Recognized nationally for advanced cardiac care including a world-class open heart program, St. Joe’s also offers family-centered obstetrics, and a Level II Trauma Center.
About Presence Health
Presence Health is the largest Catholic health system based in Illinois, created in 2011 through the merger of Provena Health and Resurrection Health Care. With more than 150 sites of care, including 12 hospitals, Presence Health has more than 20,000 employees, 4,000 medical professionals and a revenue base of nearly $2.5 billion.