After a Liver Cancer Diagnosis, Radioembolization (Y-90) Gave James a Second Chance at Life

James Thias enjoys the simple things in life. He loves spending quality time with his wife, his two grown children, and his 2-year-old and 6-year-old grandsons. Two years ago, however, James never thought he would be alive today to cherish these moments. Now, he believes miracles can happen.

“I was diagnosed with primary liver cancer right when the COVID-19 pandemic hit,” said Thias. “My primary care physician referred me to Dr. Irfan Jawed, an oncologist at Memorial Hermann. Even though I knew my chances of getting liver cancer were high since I had hepatitis C and cirrhosis of the liver, I was never completely prepared when the doctor told me that I had cancer. You start asking yourself questions, ‘How long will I live? Is this treatable?’ When I found out about my diagnosis, I didn’t show much emotion until later. I just cried about it.”

Following the diagnosis, Dr. Jawed collaborated closely with Dr. Sasidhar Yallampalli, an interventional radiologist, to determine the best treatment protocol for Thias. Since Thias had a single mass in his liver, his interventional radiology team determined he was a good candidate for Y-90 radioembolization, a minimally invasive, outpatient procedure that combines embolization and radiation therapy to target tumors in the liver. Tiny glass or resin beads filled with the radioactive isotope, yttrium Y-90, are placed inside the blood vessels that feed the tumor. The beads then embolize, meaning they block the supply of blood to cancer cells, and then deliver a high dose of radiation directly to the tumor while sparing surrounding healthy liver tissue.

Thias had his first Y-90 treatment in May 2020. Five months later, he had his second Y-90 procedure to remove a small trace of residual disease that was still visible on his imaging after his first Y-90 treatment.  Thias says he tolerated the Y-90 treatment well and did not experience any negative side effects.  

“I had no pain and I was awake for the entire procedure,” said Thias. “I am grateful that I had this procedure. It’s been life-changing. Every follow-up imaging I’ve had has shown that the cancer cells are not growing. While I don’t use the word ‘remission,’ the liver tumor is certainly not getting any bigger.”

Memorial Hermann has been offering Y-90 radioembolization for several years and has seen promising outcomes, even improving survival and quality of life for many patients with inoperable liver tumors.

“Y-90 has revolutionized the way we treat primary liver cancer and metastatic diseases of the liver and offers hope to patients, like Thias, who are not candidates for surgery or liver transplantation,” said Dr. Yallampalli.

Two years after his Y-90 treatments, Thias is doing well. He continues to see Dr. Jawad regularly at Memorial Hermann for follow-up imaging and lab tests. He hopes his cancer journey inspires others.

“I want people to know there is hope after liver cancer,” said Thias. “When I researched about liver cancer online, everything I read made me believe I only had six months to live. But here I am. I have to credit my wonderful oncology team at Memorial Hermann for helping me along this tough journey. My message to others is to stay on top of your health. If something isn’t right, get it checked out, and it’s important to always make sure you have a team that you can trust and who is invested in your care.”

To learn more about liver cancer and our treatment options at Memorial Hermann, please visit: https://memorialhermann.org/services/conditions/liver-cancer.

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Ali Vise