Ice ball therapy offers breast cancer cure

A technique for destroying breast tumours by freezing them with ice could offer hope of a safe non-surgical cure for the disease, a study suggests.

The technique called cryotherapy is already used to treat prostate cancer and involves inserting several needle-like ‘cryoprobes’ into the tumour and passing super-cold gas through them,” reports

The ice ball rapidly created around each site kills off the cancerous cells. Freezing therapy has been tried before for breast cancer but this is the first time a minimally invasive version, which requires no surgery, has been developed.

Cancer experts, however, warned it may take many years for the technique to become common.

The “gold standard” treatment for breast cancer is surgery, which offers the best chance of a cure. But removal of breasts, and even surgery to cut out malignant tissue, can have a profound psychological impact on patients.

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy also have serious drawbacks in the form of complications and side effects.

Some women with breast cancer refuse to have surgery or harsh therapies, despite the consequent risks.

That is why there is great interest in the possibility of using freezing therapy as a treatment.

In the latest study, 13 women with breast cancer who received the therapy remained cancer-free up to five years later. Doctors saw no sign of the disease returning and noted no significant complications.

Minimally-invasive cryotherapy opens the door for a potential new treatment for breast cancer and needs to be further tested. When used for local control and/or potential cure of breast cancer, it provided safe and effective breast conservation with minimal discomfort for a group of women who refused invasive surgery or had a local recurrence and needed additional management,” said lead researcher Peter Littrup, from the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit, US.

“This is the first reported study of successfully freezing breast cancer without having to undergo surgery afterward to prove that it was completely treated,” he added.

Freezing therapy for breast cancer is not new, but has been slow to develop. Generally the technique has involved an operation and been applied by surgeons. Only in the last few years have the cryoprobes become small enough to be inserted through a small nick in the skin without the need for surgery. During the procedure the physician is guided by ultrasound or CT (computerised tomography) X-ray scans.

The findings were presented Wednesday at the annual meeting of the Society of Interventional Radiology in Tampa, Florida.

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