Dec. 1, 2004 (Chicago) -- A new outpatient procedure that zaps lung cancer is a safe and viable alterative to surgery and may be a better option for some patients.
Damian Dupuy, MD, professor of diagnostic imaging at Brown Medical School in Providence, R.I., tells WebMD that this tumor-zapping approach, which uses radiofrequency energy, has several advantages over traditional cancer treatments.
Unlike radiation, there is no maximum dose of radiofrequency, so the procedure can be safely repeated a number of times, Dupuy says. He reported his findings at the Radiological Society of North America's annual meeting.
In his study he treated 126 lung cancer patients. During the procedure, called radiofrequency ablation, a probe is inserted through the skin and guided to the tumor site. Once the probe is placed, it emits radiofrequency energy, which heats the tumor cells.
"So, we actually cook the tissue almost to the boiling point, and that kills the tumor," Dupuy says.
He says 62% of the patients who had treatable disease were still alive 21 months after the procedure. Five years after treatment, more than half of the patients were still alive.
In addition to using radiofrequency ablation to cure lung cancer, Dupuy says it can also be used to relieve pain for patients with late-stage lung cancer.
The procedure can even be used in people when surgery is not an option because their health is too poor. Dupuy says that covers a majority of lung cancer patients who are often too old or who have other smoking-related conditions such as heart disease or emphysema.
He notes that one of his patients was 92 when he underwent radiofrequency ablation for a lung tumor. "We had to repeat the procedure a year later when the patient was 93, and now he is 95 and still leading a very active life," he says.
Bradford J. Wood, MD, a senior clinical investigator at the National Institutes of Health clinical center in Bethesda, Md., tells WebMD that "we are on the edge of an explosion of image-guided, noninvasive treatments, and Dupuy's study is an exciting example of one of these treatments."
Wood, who was not involved in the study, says radiofrequency ablation has already demonstrated impressive results for treatment of liver and kidney cancers, but lung cancer is a new area for this technology.
He notes that since lung cancer accounts for 56% of all cancer deaths, any new treatment has the potential for a huge public health impact.
"It is really nice to have another treatment option since so many patients are not good candidates for surgery," Wood says. He notes, too, that while chemotherapy and radiation are effective, "they can't get the job done by themselves."
Dupuy says radiofrequency ablation can be used to reduce the size of really large tumors, which increases the effectiveness of radiation or chemotherapy.