Stopping Liver Cancer with Directed Therapy

January 23, 2024

A Providence Holy Cross family gets a second chance through the revolutionary Y90 radiation treatment.

Since Glyn and Jeannie Hasal settled in Granada Hills 43 years ago, Providence Holy Cross Medical Center has been their hospital of choice. One of their daughters works there as a nurse, and Jeannie is a longtime volunteer in the hospital gift shop. And it was through an article in Health Matters that Glyn found a lifesaving treatment for his cancer.

“I had gotten home from volunteering at the hospital,” says Jeannie, “and we were sitting at the kitchen table reading the mail.” There, in the Summer 2022 issue of Health Matters, was an article on Y90, a revolutionary treatment for cancer in the liver that delivers localized radiation to cancerous cells.

Glyn, a 77-year-old retired chief financial officer, was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2020. After a successful surgery, his scans remained clear for a while. But by 2022 cancer cells had metastasized to his liver.

“I was looking at surgery that would have removed about a third of my liver,” he says. “But when I saw Y90 as a potential option, I jumped at it. The prospect of chemo felt like being in a body cast when you just have a sprained wrist. Y90 made so much sense, because it attacks right at the necessary spot.”

Y90 is a minimally invasive targeted therapy in which microspheres of the radioactive isotope yttrium-90 are delivered directly to a liver tumor via the arteries, releasing continuous local radiation over time. Providence Holy Cross Medical Center is the only hospital in the San Fernando Valley that offers Y90 treatment, and has performed more than 500 to date—one of the highest numbers in the country.

“It’s fascinating to me how much you can do with minimally invasive image-guided procedures and surgeries,” says interventional radiologist Navid Eghbalieh, MD, the hospital’s director of vascular and interventional radiology, as well as the medical director of imaging services. “You can go in through a small incision and do big things.”

The procedure can be used only for cancers in the liver. “If we go into the kidney and cut off the artery, for example,” says Dr. Eghbalieh, “the kidney will die. But what actually keeps the liver alive is a big vein called the portal vein that drains all the blood from your bowel. That’s why colon cancer often spreads to the liver.” With Y90, he says, radiation is delivered to a tumor through the liver’s hepatic artery. “When we radiate that area, we’re able to kill off the tumor without hurting the liver.”

The results have completely changed survival rates for his patients. “Our treatment options were limited before,” he says. Traditional chemotherapy, which affects your entire system, can work wonders. But, says Dr. Eghbalieh, “when you have a large liver mass that needs to be treated, you need to combine chemotherapy with liver-directed therapy so that both can work in synergy to kill the tumor. Surgery has and will always be the main treatment option. However, not everyone is an ideal surgical candidate.“

“I had a patient tell me,” he adds, “’You’ve redefined what life is for me, and you’ve given me new meaning in wanting to live.’ People who thought they might not have that opportunity are getting it. We’re impacting lives every day.”

In July 2022, Glyn Hasal had his Y90 treatment as an outpatient procedure. “I was awake for the whole thing,” he says. Once home, he needed no pain medication. A year later, his cancer has not returned.

A lifelong pilot, Glyn has a small Cessna plane and is eager to get back in the air after an upcoming shoulder surgery. Meanwhile, he’s happy spending time with his children, grandchildren and, of course, Jeannie.

“It’s like a miracle that the treatment was available and I was able to make use of it,” he says. “I have never felt negative about my cancer journey, always positive. Maybe it’s the influence of Providence Holy Cross and everybody there. Their attitude was ‘We can take care of this.’ And that was my attitude too. Let’s just take care of it.”

Previously published in Providence Holy Cross Medical Center's Health Matters Fall 2023 Issue.

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