Radioactive beads given in addition to chemotherapy does not improve control of cancer nor survival in patients with colorectal cancer and metastasis in the liver.

Bowel cancer commonly spreads to the liver. In most patients this cannot be removed by an operation and cure is not possible. Chemotherapy treatment can help control the growth of the cancer and improve survival. Radioactive beads can be injected into the blood vessels of the liver to try and control the cancer in the liver. In one study that had 21 participants, radioactive beads (injected into the blood vessels of the liver) given with chemotherapy (into the veins of the arm) was more effective at controlling the cancer and improving how long people lived than chemotherapy given on it's own. However, in this study more people who received the radioactive beads suffered from side effects and this study used an older type of chemotherapy that is less effective than the newer treatments that are now available. In a second study with 63 participants, radioactive beads were given with chemotherapy that was injected directly into the blood vessels of the liver. In this study there was no extra benefit in the control of cancer growth or survival for those participants who received radioactive beads in addition to the chemotherapy. More studies are needed with a particular focus on whether radioactive beads provides extra benefit when given with newer chemotherapy treatments, and if radioactive beads provide benefit when given on their own.

Authors' conclusions: 

There is a need for well designed, adequately powered phase III trials assessing the effect of SIRT when used with modern combination chemotherapy regimens. Further studies are also needed for patients with refractory disease with a particular focus on the impact on quality of life.

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Liver metastases are often the dominant site of metastatic disease in colorectal cancer. Selective internal radiation therapy (SIRT) involves embolising radiolabeled spheres (SIR-Spheres) into the arterial supply of the liver with the aim of improving the control of liver metastases.


To assess the effectiveness and toxicity of SIRT in the treatment of metastatic colorectal cancer liver metastasis when given alone or with systemic or regional hepatic artery chemotherapy.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), Cochrane library 2008 issue 2, MEDLINE (1966 to October 2008), EMBASE (1980 to October 2008), and Pubmed (October 2008). The proceedings of ASCO (1985 to 2008) and ASCO GI (2004 to 2008) were also searched. The manufacturers of SIR-Spheres were contacted and asked whether they were aware of any other unpublished studies.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised controlled trials comparing SIRT and chemotherapy (systemic and/or regional) with chemotherapy alone, or comparing SIRT alone with best supportive care in patients with metastatic colorectal cancer.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two authors (AT/TP) extracted data and assessed the trial quality. The study authors were contacted and individual patient data was obtained. Results were analysed separately for patients with and without extra-hepatic disease.

Main results: 

A single study of 21 patients compared SIRT and systemic chemotherapy (fluorouracil and leucovorin) with chemotherapy alone. There was a significant improvement in progression free survival and median survival associated with SIRT, both for the total studied population and for those disease limited to the liver. There was an increase in toxicity with the use of SIRT. A second study of 63 eligible patients compared SIRT and regional chemotherapy (floxuridine) with regional chemotherapy alone. There was no significant difference in progression free survival and median survival seen with SIRT, in either the total patient group or in the 22 patients with disease limited to the liver. There was no significant increase in toxicity with the addition of SIRT to regional chemotherapy. There were no randomised studies comparing SIRT with best supportive care in patients with refractory disease, and no randomised studies assessing the effect of SIRT in patients with resectable liver metastases.