IT’S a landmark moment in cancer care that could save the lives of patients who previously had little chance of survival.

Doctors in Southampton have become the first in the country to treat liver cancer by isolating the organ from the rest of the body and bathing it in chemotherapy.

The pioneering technique means that doctors can blast the cancerous cells without fear of causing damage to the rest of the body, which has previously limited the effectiveness of treatment.

It is also believed that the breakthrough could be extended to treat a number of other cancers, including colon, breast and melanoma.

The revolutionary procedure, performed by Dr Brian Stedman, a consultant interventional radiologist at Southampton General Hospital, involves using two small balloons to divert blood past the liver for an hour while delivering drugs directly in to the organ.

Known as chemosaturation therapy or percutaneous hepatic perfusion (PHP), the technique allows doctors to administer much larger doses than patients would receive with standard chemotherapy as it does not enter the bloodstream and damage healthy parts of the body.

Once the drug has been delivered, blood from the liver is drained from the patient and processed through a filtration machine to reduce toxicity before being returned to the patient via the jugular vein.

Dr Stedman, who has used the method to treat two patients with liver cancer which has spread from the eye, called the development a “landmark moment” in cancer care.

He said: “To cut off an organ from the body for 60 minutes, soak it in a high dose of drug and then filter the blood almost completely clean before returning is truly groundbreaking.

“Previously, the outlook for patients specifically suffering from cancer which has spread to the liver has been poor because standard chemotherapies effect is limited by the unwanted damage the drug causes to the rest of the body.”

Results of a recent study in the US showed patients who received PHP survived five times longer before the disease – metastatic melanoma – progressed than those who had standard chemotherapy.