In an earlier article I told you about a procedure doctors have been using since the 1990s to kill prostate cancer cells without surgery. Now it looks like this same innovative approach can be used on small breast tumors as well.
It’s exciting news (and not just because it’s almost painless, is an out-patient procedure, and leaves no scars). Nearly all women who are told they have early-stage breast cancer elect to have it cut out rather than take their chances on alternative treatments.
Although it’s a normal response, it’s also a panic response. I’d give alternative therapies two or three weeks, at least – and I bet you’ll be happy with the results. If you want to know what the best alternatives are, consider our Special Report Breast Cancer Cover-Up.
But if you’re in the majority who just wants to get rid of the darn thing, now conventional medicine has come up with a new way that sounds more reasonable to me than surgery. Keep reading to learn more. . .
Cryoablation—also known as cryotherapy or cryosurgery—involves the use of controlled freeze-and-thaw cycles to destroy cancer cells in both malignant and benign tumors.
In 2012, IceCure Medical Ltd. of Israel successfully used their IceSense3 cryoablation procedure on four breast cancer patients to treat small, early stage breast cancer tumors (fibroadenomas).
Traditionally, a surgical biopsy was the only option for removing these tumors. But cryoablation provides a less invasive option that even the Food and Drug Administration approves for treating fibroadenomas.
IceSense3 has been developed specifically for breast tumors and uses ultrasound imaging to guide thin, hollow needles into the tumor.
Doctors then use liquid nitrogen or argon gas to cool the end of the needle to -274 F (-170 C). This turns the tumor into a ball of ice and allows your body to reabsorb the dead cells over time.
Use of the probe also helps ensure that only breast tumor cells are killed—leaving surrounding tissues unharmed.
Eisuke Fukuma, MD, PhD, Chairman of the Breast Center at Kameda Medical Center in Kamogawa City, Japan, is leader of a clinical trial that will eventually involve 30 small early stage breast cancer patients. Four have been treated as of the latest information I have.
In a company statement, Dr. Fukuma said “this procedure is an exciting step towards moving treatment of small, early stage breast cancer tumors from open surgery to a minimally invasive cryoablation procedure.”
What are the pros and cons
of this treatment?
Cryoablation has been used for years to treat both malignant and benign tumors. Over 400 published studies document the clinical value of cryotherapy to treat prostate cancer.
And recent studies show ten-year cure rates as high as 90% for low risk (presumably early stage) patients. This represents the same success rate as surgery or radiation treatments.
I actually think cryotherapy sounds like a more reasonable approach for early-stage breast cancer than for prostate cancer (see Issue #110 for my take on the latter). Situated deep within the body, the prostate is harder to reach with the probes and it’s more difficult to identify all the tumors and their precise locations.
But when treating breast cancer with freezing probes it sounds like it’s fairly easy to get where you want to go, kill only cancer cells, and get out with no damage to healthy tissue.
Recent technological advances have resulted in smaller probes that are easier to manage. These are ideal for use in treating breast cancer.
This new breast cancer treatment provides several advantages, including:
- No hospitalization required—the procedure can be performed safely in a doctor’s office or breast center.
- No anesthesia or sutures needed—this helps minimize any risk of infection or reactions to anesthetics, such as heart attack or stroke.
- No invasive surgery involved—the 5 to 15-minute procedure helps speed recovery time.
- No huge medical bills—cryoablation costs less than cancer surgery which may require lengthy hospital stays, anesthesia and prescription drugs.
- No pain or scar tissue—most patients report minimal pain with the procedures and have little to no scarring within six months.
Now in all fairness, you must consider the less favorable aspect of cryoablation. In my opinion, it’s very minor, but I’ll mention it: It DOES involve the use of needles. Small and thin though they may be… some folks just can’t stomach them.
You’ll need to endure a needle for the local anesthesia as well as the one used to administer the gases to freeze the tumor cells. I don’t know why this would bother a person any more than being cut with a scalpel, but some people might have a different take.
U.S. researchers achieve similar results
In 2010, Peter J. Littrup, M.D., reported encouraging results in a study of 13 breast cancer patients who refused surgery. He’s an interventional radiologist and director of imaging research and image-guided therapy for the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit, Michigan.
In a Science Daily article, Dr. Littrup explained that researchers inserted several needle-like probes through the skin at even spaces, which delivered the cold gas directly to the tumor.
A major difference between this study and prior methods of breast cryotherapy is the use of two or more probes to deliver the cold gas. Prior breast cryotherapy studies used only a single cryoprobe.
Littrup said early researchers also suggested that breast tumors larger than 1.5 centimeters could not be adequately treated with cryoablation.
But this assertion ignores the fact that men’s prostate glands—which average 5 centimeters—have been treated successfully with cryoablation for more than a decade!
When treating prostates with cryoablation, doctors typically use more than six probes to transfer the deadly cold temperatures throughout the whole gland.
Littrup’s team used this concept to attack breast tumors to ensure that the freezing gas saturated all areas of the women’s tumors.
Many medical professionals are encouraged by results of cryotherapy as a breast cancer treatment. One of the most positive results from the Michigan study is that the patients didn’t have to undergo additional surgery, aimed at proving the cancer tumors had been treated completely, following multi-probe cryoablation.
Although he stressed the need for more large studies on the use of this approach, Dr. Littrup said he believes cryotherapy will allow “accurate targeting of more difficult-to-see breast tumors.”
The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 40,000 people will die from breast cancer in 2013. Cryoablation could be a promising new treatment to help cut that number down to size!