Patients diagnosed with metastatic melanoma on a limb have traditionally had limited options for fighting the often deadly form of skin cancer. Surgery is often impossible or would require large portions of tissue be removed – even the entire arm or leg. Northwestern Medicine® oncologists are offering an alternative approach that focuses on saving the limb while eliminating or shrinking the cancer, and may avoid the need for radical surgery altogether. The procedure, called isolated limb infusion, is performed at only a handful of medical centers across the country due to the complexity of the approach and expertise of the team required.
During the procedure, doctors use a tourniquet to temporarily stop blood flow to the limb. A high-dose of heated chemotherapy medication is then injected into a main artery of the affected limb using a catheter to target the cancer. By isolating the limb, doctors are able to prevent the otherwise toxic high-dose chemotherapy drugs from affecting other organs. Following the treatment, drugs are flushed out through the main vein with a second catheter and circulation to the limb is returned to normal.
“This is a remarkable and frequently effective option for treating patients who otherwise would face amputation or disfiguring surgery,” said Karl Bilimoria, MD, surgical oncologist at Northwestern Memorial and member of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University.