The cancer-killing freeze is achieved by delivering a very low temperature
gas to the tumor using needle-like probes.
Littrup tells WebMD that a single-probe freezing approach has been used for
several years to treat breast cancer, but it is widely considered to be
unsuitable for tumors larger than 1.5 centimeters.
"We've been using multiple probes for many years to treat prostate cancer
with a minimum of five probes," he says. "So it just made sense to me to try
multiple probes for breast cancer."
He adds that recent technological advances resulting in smaller and
easier-to-manage probes and better ways to guide them to the tumor have made
nonsurgical cryotherapy an attractive option for breast cancer.
The 13 patients included in the study had a total of 25 tumors, ranging in
size from 0.5 centimeters to 5.8 centimeters. The average tumor size was 1.7
Using local anesthesia with mild sedation, an average of three probes per
tumor were guided to the tumor site using either ultrasound alone or ultrasound
with computed tomography (CT) imaging. The probes produced "ice balls" ranging
in size from 2 centimeters to 10 centimeters, depending on the size of the
Patients reported minimal pain and a high satisfaction with the cosmetic
results following the treatment.
Littrup says most patients had complete healing of the frozen area with very
little or no scaring within six months.
He hopes to conduct larger studies in breast cancer patients using a
cryotechnology procedure that uses magnetic resonance (MR) to guide the probes.
Littrup developed and has patented this technology, and he says it is
potentially useful in the treatment of many types of cancer.
Cure Rates Still Unknown
Radiologist Gale A. Sisney, MD, considers cryotherapy a very promising
approach for the treatment of breast cancer that could prove to be as effective
as surgical treatment.
Sisney is chief of breast imaging at the University of Wisconsin,
"We won't be able to say for some time how this compares with lumpectomy in
terms of cure rates," she says.
American Cancer Society Deputy Chief Medical Officer Len Lichtenfeld, MD,
says much larger studies are needed with longer follow-up to determine
cryotherapy's role in the treatment of breast cancer.
"I would be cautious about any suggestion that this treatment is appropriate
for a woman with cancer that is localized to the breast and possibly regional
lymph nodes," he says. "Sometimes techniques like this one, which have a lot of
appeal to patients, gain a following before the research is in. I would not
make assumptions based on this small study."