Cryotherapy Shrinks Benign Breast Lumps

Patients Report Excellent Cosmetic Results, High Satisfaction With Freezing Procedure, but Insurance Coverage May Be Tricky

From the WebMD Archives

Dec. 4, 2003 -- For women who have fibrous benign breast lumps, the typical treatment is surgical removal. Now researchers have found that such lesions, known as fibroadenomas, can be treated effectively and without surgery in a procedure known as cryotherapy.

Cryotherapy is a safe, office-based procedure that produces better cosmetic results and minimal scarring compared with conventional surgical removal, says to Peter J. Littrup, MD. He presented his findings in Chicago at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America. Littrup is a professor of radiology at Wayne State University in Detroit, where he is an attending radiologist at the Karmanos Cancer Center.

"Typically small, benign breast lumps are left alone," Littrup tells WebMD. "We remove those that are more than two centimeters in diameter, and those that are growing." He notes lumps that are large enough to feel, bother women, and that they are particularly distressing to young women, because the lumps fluctuate in size with the menstrual cycle.


He and his fellow researchers wanted to see if cryotherapy was a feasible way to treat breast fibroadenomas. Therefore, they contacted 27 women whose lumps qualified for surgical removal and offered them cryotherapy instead. The women had 42 lesions among them and were 13 to 54 years old.

In the procedure an ultrasound-guided probe is inserted into the mass of breast tissue. The technique then uses extremely cold temperatures to kill these abnormal, noncancerous cells. Patients typically need only local anesthesia, while they normally require sedation with conventional surgical removal. Unlike the surgical procedure, the freezing procedure leaves minimal scars.

For all of the women in this study, the researchers confirmed that the lesions were benign and not actually harboring breast cancer, said Littrup.

Researchers performed follow-up ultrasound scans on the women one week after the procedure, then again at one, three, six, and 12 months. Littrup and colleagues documented no significant complications and reported high patient satisfaction with the procedure's cosmetic results. By approximately six months after the procedure, the women reported that they could no longer feel the lumps.

Physicians are still evaluating the new procedure's role in treating benign breast lesions, says Darrell N. Smith, MD, who was not involved in the study.


"The investigators showed that benign fibroadenomas can be killed with cryotherapy," Smith tells WebMD. "But remember that benign fibroadenomas do not need to be removed. I would be surprised if insurance companies would pay for it, because they will view it as a cosmetic procedure." He is the director of breast imaging research at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, and an assistant professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School.

Sanarus, Inc. funded the study. The company manufacturers the ultrasound equipment researchers used.

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SOURCES: Peter J. Littrup, MD, professor of radiology at Wayne State University in Detroit. Darrell N. Smith, MD, director, breast imaging research at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston; assistant professor, radiology, Harvard Medical School, Boston. Radiological Society of North America 89th Scientific Assembly and Annual Meeting, Chicago, Dec. 3, 2003, abstract: M01-1084.
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