When Anna Galessiere learned a year ago that she had colon cancer, the prognosis for the 62-year-old was grim. Her doctors discovered that not only were there tumours in her colon, the cancer had also spread to her liver.

Galessiere's case was one her doctors had seen before. In almost half of colorectal cancer patients, the cancer spreads into the liver or into the lungs, where it becomes much more difficult to treat.

With six tumours surrounding arteries on Galessiere's liver, surgery was deemed impossible. Standard chemotherapy was an option, but research has shown that only about 25 per cent of patients show any response to the medications.

But Galessiere's doctors at Toronto's Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre decided to make her the first patient in Canada to try a new implantable chemotherapy pump, as part of a study to test its effectiveness.

"I am blessed because I am the first one chosen here in Canada, so they gave me good hope," Galessiere says.

The small, disc-shaped pump, called a hepatic artery infusion pump (HAIP), is surgically implanted just below the skin and connected via catheter to the main artery of the liver, which is also where liver tumours derive most of their blood supply.

For two weeks, the pump sends cancer-killing drugs straight into her liver. At the same time, Galessiere will receive some standard chemotherapy.

What is great about the pump is that it spares the rest of the body from the drugs' toxic side effects, says surgical oncologist Dr. Paul Karanicolas.

"That allows us to effectively give about 400 times the dose of chemotherapy directly to the liver," he says. "And as a result we see much greater response."

In the U.S., where the pumps were developed and have been in use for some time, studies suggest that tumours shrink in 75 per cent of patients using it, allowing many to eventually have the tumours surgically removed.

Those studies have shown that HAIP therapy can increase how long patients survive, and can also increase quality of life because of the reduced chemotherapy side effects.

"What is most exciting to us is we have another option to offer patients that can potentially help patients live longer -- and even cure some patients," he says.

Doctors at Sunnybrook now hope to offer the pump to about 100 patients in Canada to help determine whether the treatment could one day be offered across the country.

With a report from CTV medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip