Cleaning Out a 1-in-a-Million Cancer

Michael Smith


Right before he left on vacation, Michael Smith had gallstones and swelling in his pancreas and liver. Group Health gastroenterologist Thomas Ylvisaker, M.D., recommended surgery, but Smith wanted to wait until after his vacation. Dr. Ylvisaker insisted Smith have surgery right away.

Good thing.

When surgeons opened Smith up, they found his organs covered in sticky goo. It was the result of a rare cancer called pseudomyxoma peritonei, or PMP, that affects just one in a million people. The cancer occurs when a tumor (usually in the appendix) bursts, then spreads mucus throughout the organs. Because it causes few symptoms at first, the cancer is difficult to diagnose and not always easy to treat.

With the support of Dr. Ylvisaker and expert consultants, Smith underwent a 12-hour surgery to remove the affected organs and clean out the slime with liquid chemotherapy. Just a day after surgery he was released from the intensive care unit; a month later, he was walking up to a mile each day.

Smith credits his health care team, particularly Dr. Ylvisaker, for saving his life.

POSTED: August 2009

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