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Eur J Surg Oncol. 1999 Aug;25(4):381-8.

Downstaging by regional chemotherapy of non-resectable isolated colorectal liver metastases.

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Departments of General and Visceral Surgery, University of Ulm, Ulm, Germany.



To improve the course of isolated non-resectable colorectal liver metastases (CRLM) by hepatic arterial infusion treatment. Patients with CRLM have a worse prognosis than those whose liver metastases are resectable. Systemic (i.v.) chemotherapy for CRLM/colorectal metastases with 5-fluorouracil+folinic acid (5-FU+FA) i.v. may result in median survival times of 6.4-14.3 months. Hepatic artery infusion (HAI) with 5-fluorodeoxyuridine (5-FUDR) has been demonstrated in a meta-analysis of randomized trials to be superior to i.v. treatment/palliative care (median survival 15 vs. 10 months). The benefit of HAI with 5-FUDR, although recommended as treatment for CRLM, is severely compromised by the 5-FUDR induced hepatotoxicity, leading eventually to sclerosing cholangitis (SC)/liver cirrhosis. We have developed a stepwise protocol for HAI in CRLM, which is superior to HAI with 5-FUDR and to systemic chemotherapy.


Between 1982 and 1997, 168 CRLM patients were treated within the following protocols. In protocol A, 48 CRLM patients received HAI with 5-FUDR. In protocol B, 46 patients received 5-FUDR i.a. (HAI)+i.v. In protocol C 5-FU+FA were delivered via HAI in 24 patients with CRLM. In protocol D, based on in vitro phase II studies and the results of protocol C, mitoxantrone and mitomycin C were added to 5-FU+FA (MFFM). Fifty (50) CRLM patients received HAI with HFFM.


The response rates, median survival time, systemic toxicity and SC rate were: 42%, 20.8 months, 0-19% and 38% for protocol A; 46%, 20.8 months, 0-20% and 41% for protocol B; 45%, 19.8 months, 4-25% and 0% for protocol C; and 66%, 27.4 months, 2-26% and 0% for protocol D. The surgically placed ports for HAI in protocols C and D functioned in 90%, 82% and 76% of patients, 6, 9, and 11 months after beginning HAI. Quality of life in protocol D was high. Nine patients from protocols C and D with either partial (PR, seven patients) or complete (CR, two patients) remissions received a secondary liver resection without hospital mortality, and seven of nine patients are alive 2-58 months after liver resection. The other two died 11 and 22 months after resection.


Optimal treatment of CRLM was found to be protocol D: HAI with MFFM. The results of this protocol, including high remission rate, long median survival time, good port function, good quality of life and, interestingly, the possibility of downstaging and resecting primarily non-resectable metastases, seem to be superior to HAI with 5-FUDR or 5-FU+FA and to systemic chemotherapy with 5-FU+FA. This hypothesis is currently being examined in a phase III study (HAI with MFFM vs. 5-FU+FA i.v.).

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