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Breast Cancer Health Center

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New Treatment May Zap Early Breast Cancers

Experimental Breast Cancer Treatment May Offer Alternative to Surgery
WebMD Health News

March 30, 2004 -- A new treatment that uses electricity to destroy small tumors in the breast may soon offer an alternative to surgery for women with breast cancer.

A small study of radiofrequency (RF) ablation in treating early breast cancers shows the minimally invasive procedure is feasible and safe. But researchers say more study is needed before the experimental technique can replace the currently accepted therapy of surgery followed by radiation therapy.

"This is an experimental study, and additional long-term trials will be needed before RF ablation becomes available as an alternative to surgery in the treatment for early breast cancer," says researcher Bruno Fornage, MD, a professor of radiology and surgical oncology at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, in a news release.

Zapping Breast Cancer

The study, published in the April issue of Radiology, looked at the safety and effectiveness of RF ablation in the treatment of small breast cancers that were less than 2 centimeters in diameter.

RF ablation involves using ultrasound imaging to guide a needle/electrode that delivers heat generated by an electrical current to the center of a tumor. In the study, a temperature of about 200°F was applied to the tumor for 15 minutes to destroy the cancerous tissue.

Researchers performed the procedure on 21 breast cancer lesions in 20 women immediately before they underwent lumpectomy (surgical removal of the tumor and surrounding tissue) or mastectomy (removal of the entire breast).

After the procedure and subsequent surgery was completed, a pathologist evaluated the tissue samples to determine if the RF ablation treatment had destroyed all the cancerous cells.

The study showed that the tumor seen on ultrasound was completely destroyed in all 21 cases without any adverse effects, such as burns to the skin or chest wall.

But a residual microscopic cancer that did not show up on imaging, even retrospectively, was found in the surrounding breast tissue in one of two women who had received chemotherapy prior to the procedure.

Since the RF ablation procedure uses ultrasound imaging to guide where therapy is given, researchers say the target tumor must be clearly visible with ultrasound imaging and have well-defined borders in order to reduce the risk of leaving behind any cancerous cells.

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