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Breast Cancer Health Center

Lasers May Be Gentler Alternative to Breast Cancer Surgery

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The success of the treatment all hinges on whether an imaging procedure called magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, can accurately determine if the laser has destroyed all the cancer. To do this, the researchers have performed the procedure on about 100 women. Ultimately, Bown hopes to recruit up to 500 women to prove the procedure works.

Bown tells WebMD, "We're playing with fire here," so extreme precautions are being taken to be sure the cancer is gone. The women first undergo a MRI before the procedure, then again after the procedure. But because the researchers are not sure that the MRI is adequately showing the full extent of the cancer, surgery is performed to verify the entire cancerous area in the breast. That tissue is then examined under a microscope and compared to the findings of the MRI scan.

"The real aim is to say, 'has the laser treatment completely destroyed the cancer or have we left a bit behind,'" Bown says. "If we can be confident the laser has got everything, then we will get to the stage where we don't need conventional surgery as well. We're just about getting to that stage now."

In fact, the researchers report that results so far show MRI is "remarkably good" at detecting the extent of the cancer and detecting whether the laser destroyed all of it. Harms tells WebMD it's important to note that "surgery's not perfect either" when it comes to removing all the cancer, adding "we are very confident in our MRI technology."

Harms is confident enough in the MRI that he's performed the laser process on three women, without conventional surgery afterward. The women instead are undergoing extremely vigilant follow-up for five years. One patient is still doing well one year after surgery, Harms says.

There is a third part to the research that has yielded a beneficial "side effect," Bown says. It came about because the doctors had to be sure the areas treated by the laser did in fact heal safely and did not cause an infection or other problem in the breast.

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