Cool development

BREAST cancer is the second most common form of cancer in Ireland and treatment involves radiation, chemotherapy or surgery — or all three.

A pioneering new treatment by scientists in Israel may be a revolutionary alternative.

Cryoablation is a 15-minute procedure that kills tumours by freezing. A needle cooled to -170c is inserted repeatedly into the tumour, turning the cancerous cells into ice and killing them.

Hezi Himmelfarb, chief executive of Israel-based company, IceCure Medical, said in a recent interview: “There have been attempts before to use heat to destroy cancer cells, like this, but that can be extremely painful, because our bodies are very sensitive to heat.

“But cold has an anaesthetising effect, so the patients feel very little pain, during or after the procedure. We have developed the system so it can be carried out in a normal doctor’s surgery as it is minimally invasive and relatively quick.”

Naomi Fitzgibbon, Cancer Information Services manager, says although this treatment is not available in Ireland, it has been used elsewhere in the world, successfully, on patients with other forms of cancer, such as tumours in the kidney.

“Cryotherapy uses very cold temperatures to destroy cancer cells,” she says. “It is usually carried out under general anaesthetic and the surgeon places one or more probes into the centre of the tumour. A coolant is then passed through the probes. This freezes and destroys the cancer cells and a small area (about 1cm) of healthy tissue around them.

“Side-effects after the treatment are generally less severe than for a kidney operation. In a small number of people, the treatment may cause a blockage in the tube connecting the kidney to the bladder (ureter), or damage to the bowel.”

Fitzgibbon believes the treatment offers significant hope for the future.

“We are aware of this treatment and are hopeful that this will be of benefit to some groups of Irish patients in the future,” she says.

“Although it does require further study, it is currently being used in other countries to treat certain conditions.

“And The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has issued full guidance to the NHS in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland on focal therapy, using cryoablation for localised-stage prostate cancer.”

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