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Decades-old therapy saving people from amputation

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TAMPA, Fla. (Ivanhoe Newswire) – In some cases, amputation is used to treat certain cancers that develop in a person’s limb, like advanced melanomas and sarcoma or bone cancer. But a therapy that was first developed decades ago is now gaining ground with doctors who are trying to save lives and limbs.

Basketball coach Mike Hladky was faced with one of the toughest time outs of his life. Cancer was eating away at his right arm.

“There’s a malignant tumor wrapped around my nerve tendons and muscles from my wrist to the center of my forearm here and it’s inoperable,” described Hladky.

He was days away from amputation. But then he met Jonathan Zager, M.D., a surgical oncologist and professor of surgery at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida. Dr. Zager offered another way, something called isolated limb infusion.

Hladky said, “To keep my arm, I said you bet.”

Doctors target the tumor by delivering as much as ten times the normal amount of chemotherapy. First, they isolate the arm with catheters then, “We put a tourniquet above those catheters and this way we can profuse the arm with high-dose heated chemotherapy and the tourniquet prevents the chemotherapy from getting to any other place in the body,” explained Dr. Zager.

Dr. Zager said there’s a 30 to 40 percent chance the tumor will respond to the treatment.

“So I’ve done it three maybe even four times in the same patient. We usually space it out at least three to four months and we’ll only repeat it if there’s a response,” Dr. Zager told Ivanhoe.

Hladky’s tumor shrank significantly. He did the isolated limb infusion a second time and says he’ll do a replay, in an instant, if he has too.

“It’s nice to have your arm when you demonstrate you know. It’s nice to have two hands,” said Hladky.

So it looks like this basketball coach won’t be on injured reserve anytime soon.

Dr. Zager said isolated limb infusion is usually used for patients with unresectable sarcomas. The entire procedure takes about two and a half hours. The patients are under general anesthesia.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Emily Maza Gleason, Field Producer; Milvionne Chery, Assistant Producer; Roque Correa, Editor; Travis Bell, Videographer.