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Breast Cancer Surgery Without the Knife


WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD

Dec. 19, 2001 -- A breast cancer diagnosis can mean a future filled with terrifying prospects -- chemotherapy, radiation, and of course "going under the knife." Although it is often life saving, breast surgery -- whether a mastectomy or breast-sparing lumpectomy -- can be scary and painful. It also may soon be a thing of the past. Researchers report they've found a way to cut out breast tumors, without cutting the skin.

Their findings appear in the Dec. 1 issue of Cancer Research.

The German team, led by Peter E. Huber, used powerful ultrasound to overheat and "zap" away a defined breast tumor -- one that remained intact and had not spread to surrounding tissue -- in a 56-year-old menopausal woman.

In magnetic resonance imaging-guided focused ultrasound (or MRI-guided FUS), the surgeon uses temperature and blood flow feedback provided by MRI to pinpoint a tumor's "hot spot." They then aim focused ultrasound directly at the tumor's "heart," stopping its blood flow and destroying the cancerous tissue.

"Before ultrasound therapy, the patient was given only [a small dose of] an oral sedative, and no other general or local anesthesia was administered in the entire procedure. The patient did not experience pain or discomfort during or after FUS therapy with the exception of a mild pressure sensation in the tumor region," the researchers write.

Five days later, the woman underwent standard surgery that revealed the experimental procedure had worked. All the cancerous cells had died.

"This effect was realized without anesthesia and damage to the surrounding healthy tissue or [other unwanted] effects," the researchers write. "Overall, our results show that noninvasive MRI-guided therapy of breast cancer is feasible and effective."

While there are still several technical challenges to work out, and large-scale clinical trials must be done before the new technique becomes routine, "MRI-guided FUS has the potential to change the treatment paradigm in selected cancer patients," the researchers write.

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