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Wayne State University and Karmanos researchers successfully freeze, eradicate breast cancer cells using cryotherapy

March 18, 2010

Study results show potential for new treatment method


Peter J. Littrup

DETROIT- (Mar. 17, 2010) A team of doctors from the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute and Wayne State University's School of Medicine recently presented research findings that hold the promise of a potential new treatment method for breast cancer patients.

The study entitled, "Cryotherapy for a Spectrum of Breast Cancer: US and CT-guidance," was presented at the Society of Interventional Radiology's 35th Annual Scientific Meeting in Tampa, Fla. It details how researchers successfully froze breast cancer in patients who refused surgery. The women also did not need surgery to ensure the tumors were destroyed.

"Minimally-invasive cryotherapy opens the door for a potential new treatment for breast cancer and needs to be further tested," said Peter J. Littrup, M.D., vice chair for radiology research, director of interventional radiology at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute and professor of radiology, urology and radiation oncology at Wayne State University's School of Medicine. "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."

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

In the 13-patient study, researchers used several needle-like cryoprobes that were evenly spaced and inserted through the skin to deliver extremely cold gas directly to the tumor to freeze it. This technique has been used for many years by surgeons in the operating room.

In the last few years, however, the needles have become small enough to be used by interventional radiologists through a small nick in the skin, without the need for an operation. The "ice ball" that is created around the needle grows in size and destroys the frozen tumor cells.

Biopsies were done at the margins of the cryotherapy site immediately after the procedure. Follow-up inspections at those cryotherapy sites showed no cancer present. No localized treatment recurrences were seen for up to five years in the study; no significant complications were noted; and women were pleased with the cosmetic outcomes, noted Dr. Littrup.

Major benefits of cryotherapy are its superb visualization of the ice treatment zone during the procedure, its low pain profile in an outpatient setting and its excellent healing with minimal scar, according to Dr. Littrup. Breast imaging has significantly advanced by accurate improvements in breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), allowing for excellent treatment planning of tumor size and extent within the breast, as well as showing zones of destruction thoroughly covering the tumor after cryotherapy.

This potential treatment method holds widespread promise for the nearly 200,000 women who are diagnosed with breast cancer annually in the United States. For these women, as well as the thousands of men diagnosed each year, breast cancer treatments can be highly effective but often require invasive treatment options such as surgery and chemotherapy.

Surgery offers the best chance for a cure. Until long-term data is available, interventional treatments -- such as cryotherapy, thermal ablation and laser therapy -- are reserved for women who cannot have -- or have refused surgery.

Cryotechnology promises to be more MR-compatible, Dr. Littrup said, and would also allow accurate targeting of more difficult-to-see breast tumors. More importantly, larger studies in multiple centers needs to be done, following these basic cryobiology principles of sufficient lethal temperatures generated by multiple cryoprobes spaced evenly throughout a breast cancer region.

"With recent developments of powerful new cryotechnology, multiple directions for breast cryotherapy can be pursued, including translating the current, somewhat challenging, procedure done with ultrasound and/or CT guidance to a more consistent and reproducible MR-guided approach," said Dr. Littrup.

The study was authored by Dr. Littrup, M.D.; Monica D'Agostini, an undergraduate student who volunteered with the Department of Radiology at Karmanos Cancer Institute; Barbara Adam, cryotherapy staff nurse at Karmanos Cancer Institute; and David Bouwman, M.D., emeritus director of Karmanos' Alexander J. Walt Breast Center and professor of surgery at Wayne State University's School of Medicine; along with Bassel Jallad, M.D., and Priti Chandiwala-Mody, D.O., residents in Wayne State University's School of Medicine.

For further information, contact Julie O'Connor, director of Research Communications, Wayne State University, at 313-577-8845 or via email at ag2712@wayne.edu and Patricia Ellis, Media Relations Manager, Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute, at 313-576-8629 or via email at ellisp@karmanos.org.

Wayne State University WSU is one of the nation's pre-eminent public research universities in an urban setting. Through its multidisciplinary approach to research and education, and its ongoing collaboration with government, industry and other institutions, the university seeks to enhance economic growth and improve the quality of life in the city of Detroit, state of Michigan and throughout the world. For more information about research at Wayne State University, visit www.research.wayne.edu.

Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute Located in mid-town Detroit, Michigan, the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute is one of 40 National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer centers in the United States. Caring for nearly 6,000 new patients annually on a budget of $216 million, conducting more than 700 cancer-specific scientific investigation programs and clinical trials, Karmanos is among the nation's best cancer centers. Through the commitment of 1,000 staff, including nearly 300 physicians and researchers on faculty at the Wayne State University School of Medicine, and supported by thousands of volunteer and financial donors, Karmanos strives to prevent, detect and eradicate all forms of cancer. Its long-term partnership with the WSU School of Medicine enhances the collaboration of critical research and academics related to cancer care. Karmanos is southeastern Michigan's most preferred hospital for cancer care according to annual surveys conducted by the National Research Corporation. For more information call 1-800-KARMANOS or go to www.karmanos.org.

  • Contact: Julie O'Connor
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