New weapon in breast cancer battle

Researchers say super-cold gas can kill tumors and make sure they never return.

Charles Hayes


March 18, 2010


There's a potential new weapon in the battle against breast cancer.

Researchers say super-cold gas can kill tumors, and make sure they never return. The way it works is, doctors inject through a needle the super-cold gas into a patient around the tumor. A so-called "ice ball" forms around the cancer, and kills it. It's a non-invasive procedure, and doesn't cause any major discomfort.

The technique is known as cryotherapy. The trial was carried out on 13 patients who had all refused to have breast operations to remove their tumours. They remained cancer-free up to five years later when doctors saw no sign of the disease returning and noted no significant complications.

Dr Peter Littrup, interventional radiologist at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit, who led the study, said the findings suggested freezing tumours was both safe and effective.

"Minimally invasive cryotherapy opens the door for a potential new treatment for breast cancer and needs to be further tested," he said. "When used for local control and - or - potential cure of breast cancer, it provided safe and effective breast conservation." Although cryotherapy has been used by surgeons for years to treat disease, it always used to require a major operation.

But the invention of tiny needles has allowed radiologists to start using the process. Studies have already shown that it can help kill off prostate tumours, although it is still not recommended for widespread NHS use.