Medical Minute 6-15: Cutting Off Cancer That Can't Be Cut

By: Vanessa Welch Email
By: Vanessa Welch Email

When it comes to making things grow, Andrea Suhor has plenty of patience. But, with her health? Not so much. She's fighting a rare neuro-endocrine cancer that hasn't responded to traditional therapy.

"I'm ready to move forward. This is my life, and I feel like it's on hold right now until we can get started and get it under control. I'm a fighter," said Andrea Suhor.

After surgery to eliminate as much of her tumor as possible, Andrea's ready to begin an experimental treatment pioneered by LSU Surgeon Doctor Eugene Woltering.

The treatment targets her cancer by stopping new blood vessels that support tumor growth.

"If we can prevent that from happening, the tumor stays exactly the same size as it is today forever and ever," said Eugene Woltering, M.D., Professor of Surgery LSU Health Sciences Ctr.

Tiny pieces of Andrea's tumor were tested with dozens of anti-angiogenics -- Drugs that stop growth of new blood vessels

"All these that are real long lines, the drug didn't have any effect."

This graph tells them what didn't work and what did. Even if it's not a drug.

"What else we have is a black raspberry syrup."

This experimental syrup made from black raspberry powder suppressed blood vessel growth in up to 60 percent of patients.

And that's the goal: Stop tumor growth long-term -- without toxic side-effects -- by blocking the growth of new blood vessels.

"We can control the growth of cancer, keep the patient with a high quality of life and a long quantity of life."

Controlling cancer, so patients like Andrea can have a long, healthy life and plenty of time to stop and smell the roses.

For more information on other series produced by Ivanhoe Broadcast News contact John Cherry at (407) 691-1500,


REPORT: MB #3310

BACKGROUND: According to the National Cancer Institute, about 1.5 million Americans will be diagnosed with some form of cancer this year. Treatment options depend on the type of cancer, but they often include surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation.

NEUROENDOCRINE CANCERS: The neuroendocrine system is made up of cells with similar properties that are found throughout the body. These neuroendocrine cells function as part of the nervous system and the endocrine system. They can secrete hormones and proteins that act on both systems. Cancers that arise in the neuroendocrine system are found throughout the body including the lungs, stomach and intestines. Cancerous neuroendocrine cells often flood the body with inappropriate hormones or neurotransmitters. Other neuroendocrine tumors include those of the pituitary gland. Neuroendocrine cancer is a rare but serious disease.
(SOURCE: Stanford University)

BLOCKING BLOOD VESSEL GROWTH: A cancerous tumor requires oxygen and nutrients in order to grow. To do this, a tumor induces the formation of new blood vessels from vessels present in the surrounding healthy tissues. Once formed, these vessels facilitate the growth of the primary tumor and also encourage the spreading of cancer cells to distant organs. The formation of tumor blood vessels is a process known as angiogenesis. Drugs that inhibit tumor angiogenesis are currently being developed and used in patients with cancer. Eugene Woltering, M.D., professor of surgery at LSU Health Sciences Center, is taking tiny pieces of a patient's tumor and testing them with dozens of these drugs. The goal is to stop the growth of new blood vessels. “If we can prevent that from happening, the tumor stays exactly the same size as it is today forever and ever,” Dr. Woltering told Ivanhoe. LSU is one of several medical centers exploring this new approach to cancer. They hope this discovery could one day lead to cancer being treated more like a chronic disease.
(SOURCES: NCCR Oncology and LSU Health Sciences Center)

Leslie Capo, Media Relations
LSU Health Sciences Center
(504) 568-4806


Eugene Woltering, M.D., Professor of Surgery at LSU Health Sciences Ctr., discusses the innovative and natural approach his clinic is taking to give cancer patients back their quality of life.

Can you describe the two previous ways cancer has been treated in the past?

Dr. Eugene A. Woltering: Yes. The common two ways for the last 100 years to treat cancer are as follows: the first is try to stimulate your immune system so your body can fight the cancer, and that, while it has had some miniscule success, it really has not had any overwhelming success. The subsequent is a direct attack on the cancer cell, like chemotherapy; and, believe it or not, while we have made some incremental increases in how long patients live, we’ve cured very few people in the common types of cancer (i.e. breast cancer, colon cancer, pancreas cancer, lung cancer). Now, there are some exceptions to that rule – things like certain lymphomas and testicular tumors – that we have had rip-roaring success with the anti-tumor cell approach. So, we have been looking for a new approach (and not just us), but a number of investigators in the United States have been looking for a new approach for limiting cancer’s progression and thus, instead of trying to shrink cancers what we want to do is stop cancers right where they are in patients who have good performance status and watch how these patients do on drugs called anti-angiogenics. The concept being that a tumor cannot grow unless as it grows it recruits new blood vessels. So a tumor exists (let’s say that it has a million blood vessels feeding that tumor); if that tumor wants to grow it will have to recruit another million blood vessels. If we can prevent that from happening, the tumor stays the exact same size as it is today forever and ever because blood vessels are what takes the oxygen to the tumor, it takes the food to the tumor, and it takes the metabolic waste products away from the tumor to the liver and kidneys where they are metabolized.

So then how would you treat a patient like the one that we are going to meet today?

Dr. Eugene A. Woltering: This lady will probably do a multi-prong approach, and that is one of the beautiful things about this clinic. We have surgeons, we have medical oncologists, we have cancer researchers and we have nuclear medicine doctors as well as radiologists. She has just had surgery that is called cytoreductive surgery, and the idea is not to cure the tumor, but to take the tumor from big bulk into little tiny amounts of tumor, and then block the future growth of that tumor so that we keep her with little tiny bits of tumor. So what we will do is – as we meet her today – we will talk about her tumor, and what different agents that block blood vessel growth we tested on her tumor in our laboratory, and then suggest to her which one of those is the most effective, and most importantly which ones are infected but nontoxic, because if you are going to do this for the rest of your life (keep the tumor under constant suppression) you want something that is nontoxic. If something makes your hair fallout and have nausea and vomiting, or your white bloods cells or platelets decrease like chemotherapy often does, that is not something that you want to stay on everyday for the rest of your life, because it adversely affects the quality of your life. The idea behind these anti-angiogenic drugs are that they stop the tumor (they don’t have to shrink the tumor, they just stop the tumor), put it into suspended animation and are nontoxic, so you can watch over those people and treat them long-term so that they can live a normal life.

This really changes the way that we look at cancer, right?

Dr. Eugene A. Woltering: It’s a whole different shift in the paradigm of what we are trying to do, and in this clinic, with these patients with these rare neuro-endocrine tumors, we are combining surgery, we are combing radioactive chemicals that you intravenously inject, and they circulate throughout your body like a smart bomb – they take the radiation directly to the tumor. All of these things, the idea is to shrink the tumor, shrink the tumor, shrink the tumor, and in the long-term keep them on these anti-angiogenic medicines that suppress the ability for the tumor to re-grow.

How are these anti-angiogenic medications administered?

Dr. Eugene A. Woltering: Some of these things are intravenous injections, some are given as pills, and some are natural products. One of them that we are currently working on is called black raspberry powder. It is basically black raspberries (no blackberries) that are freeze dried, ground into a powder, they are then sieved to get rid of the seeds, and we have this powder that you can either make into a syrup, which you can dilute in your fruit juice, or you can dilute in your tea, or the powder can be mixed into tea that is lukewarm, sits overnight and is strained through a coffee filter to get any residual seeds that might upset your stomach, and then you drink that during the day like you would iced tea.

What have you found about black raspberries as far as controlling the progression and further development of tumors?

Dr. Eugene A. Woltering: We have done about 50 – 60 tumors here in the lab, and we look at the patient’s normal growth of blood vessels from the tumor, the growth of blood vessels with black raspberry powder, and in about 60 percent of the patients that we test, black raspberry powder (in a dose that is easily tolerated with no bad side effects in the patient) works on the tumor.

Can you discuss how your clinic is making treating cancer comparable to how type II diabetes is being treated around the United States?

Dr. Eugene A. Woltering: Again, type II diabetes is a diagnosis for essentially a lifetime. The trick to treating type II diabetics is to try and let them live a normal quantity as well as quality of life by treating them with either insulin or diet in addition to various hypoglycemic agents. The same kind of approach can be used in cancer. Once more, what we did the last 100 years was try and blow up a cancer . . . nuke the whole thing, and now we are getting smarter I think. We are saying that if we can take and make cancer a chronic condition (like you would have epilepsy, like you would have type II diabetes, like you would have emphysema), that we can control the growth of cancer, keep the patient with a high quality of life, and a long quantity of life, and we think that we have become very effective at doing this. We think that not only are drugs in the category of things that are going to be effective, but there is a lot of scientific data that shows natural products (like our black raspberry powder) will enter this field and be very, very effective.

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