By Kristina Fiore, Staff Writer, MedPage Today
Action Points – Note that this study was published as an abstract and presented at a conference. These data and conclusions should be considered to be preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Ablating tumors with sound waves may eventually be one way to treat breast cancer, researchers reported here.
In a small study of 12 patients, 10 had successful tumor ablation with magnetic resonance (MR)-guided focused ultrasound, Alessandro Napoli, MD, PhD, of Sapienza University in Rome, and colleagues reported at the Radiological Society of North America meeting here.
But two of those patients had residual tumor left after the procedure, due to a transducer malfunction, Napoli said.
“This procedure allows for safe ablation of breast cancer,” Napoli said in a statement. “At pathology, no significant viable tumor was found in the specimens from these 10 patients.”
Salomao Faintuch, MD, of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, who wasn’t involved in the study, said the results are interesting but was cautious because the work is in such an early stage.
“This is very new technology, and we’re dealing with a disease that’s deadly,” Faintuch told MedPage Today. “Before we use this technology as a sole method of treatment, we definitely need to have a lot more results.”
The technology uses focused ultrasound waves on a specific point to destroy tissue, and is effectively heat ablation. It’s guided by magnetic resonance imaging, which allows for monitoring not only the location of the targeted tissue, but also the temperature of that tissue.
Napoli and colleagues conducted their safety and feasibility study in 12 women who had invasive breast cancer. All of them had stage I disease with a lesion that was less than 2 cm in diameter.
All of them had been scheduled for a lumpectomy and a sentinel lymph node biopsy — and each ablation procedure was followed by surgery in order to confirm how well the treatment worked.
Napoli said there were no significant complications during or after the procedure, and it was successful in 10 of the 12 patients as revealed by surgical pathology following the ablation therapy.
In the other two cases, treatment failed due to a transducer malfunction, they reported, and a pathologist observed some residual tumor.
Napoli noted that the ablation procedure is long, however, taking up to 2.5 hours in some cases: “It’s a long time being on the table of the MR unit,” he said. But he said he expects that it is likely to speed up in the future, since the technology is still in its infancy.
He added that patients “like the idea that they can have their cancer removed without being cut open.” But it is hard to procure those patients, he said. “These patients belong to the surgery community, but we are in the radiological setting, so they are just passing by to us.”
Faintuch agreed that it would be hard to change the established, proven method of treatment for breast cancer: “The mainstay of treatment is surgery, combined with additional treatments such as hormonal therapy, chemotherapy or radiation therapy,” he said. It won’t be widely used “until we have enough research to show this new modality has outcomes that are equivalent [to that standard].”
He added that clinicians in Japan have been using the technology more widely, which may contribute to the small but growing body of literature on the topic.
“We look forward to more results from the Italian researchers, as well as the Japanese researchers, to move [this technology] on to next level,” Faintuch said.
Barbara Jacoby is an award winning blogger that has contributed her writings to multiple online publications that have touched readers worldwide.