When Vic Eliason's doctor told him the prostate cancer he'd been battling for a decade had spread to his liver, his first thoughts were about his grandchildren.
"It's an interesting thing," Eliason recalls. "First you deny it. Then you look at your loved ones, your kids, your grandkids, and there is the realization that you can't live forever."
But today — four years since that diagnosis — Eliason tells Newsmax Health he is healthy and his cancer is in check. At 77, the Wisconsin radio talk-show host is embracing life with a new vigor and appreciation for what he sees as a God-given gift of survival that will allow him to be see his grandkids grow up.
The reason: Eliason underwent a pioneering new cancer treatment — known as TheraSphere therapy — that targets tumors in an entirely new way. Experts say the treatment could mean liver cancer will no longer be a death sentence for the nearly 31,000 Americans diagnosed each year, nine in 10 of whom now die within 5 years.
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"It's absolutely amazing," says Eliason, a clergyman and founder of the VCY American Radio Network, a Christian broadcasting ministry in Milwaukee. "It doesn't cure you totally, but if you can slow this stuff down, there are doctors who say many people will die with the cancer, but not from the cancer."
Eliason's doctor — Eric Hohenwalter, M.D., an interventional radiologist at the Clinical Cancer Center at the Froedtert & Medical College of Wisconsin — is one of the few specialists offering the cutting-edge treatment. The early results have been so promising against liver tumors, he says MCW doctors are now testing it against colon cancer and other hard-to-treat forms of the disease that have spread to the liver.
"We have very good stories of patients that have had very good results," he says.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has cleared TheraSphere to treat only certain patients with liver cancer. It's even covered by Medicare and some insurance companies.
To date, about 5,000 patients have undergone the therapy. But experts expect those numbers to grow as more cases like Eliason's demonstrate its safety and effectiveness.
TheraSphere works by delivering tiny radioactive glass beads — smaller than the period at the end of this sentence — to tumors via blood vessels that feed them. Once there, the microspheres lodge in the cancer cells and emit precise levels of high-dose radiation from yttrium-90 — which becomes safely inert within days — to kill the tumors.
Unlike conventional treatments — such as external-beam radiation, chemotherapy, freezing, or burning tumors to kill them — TheraSphere selectively attacks cancer cells but doesn't damage healthy tissues.
"It is not a cure," Dr. Hohenwalter tells Newsmax Health, "but it has shown very good efficacy in multiple different tumor types. It certainly has shown a lot of promise and we certainly have patients that have survived long term following treatment."
Patients remain awake for the procedure, and Eliason notes that he was watching closely on a video monitor as Dr. Hohenwalter's team carried out the operation — inserting a catheter into an artery in his leg and then introducing the micro- beads into the blood vessels that supply the tumors in his liver.
"It was kind of interesting," he recalls. "You lay on this table … [and] there's a big 52-inch screen next to you and you can kind of glance up and see what the doctor is seeing."
Within weeks of undergoing the procedure, one of the tumors in Eliason's liver was gone and a second had shrunk to a third its size, and was no longer a threat.
Today, he says he's never felt better.
"It was really a wonderful thing," he says of his treatment. "I'm enjoying life and we're very thankful for everyday that we have, which is a gift from God. We look forward to every day and feeling fine."
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