How microwaves could save you from a mastectomy



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Jun 21, 2008


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How microwaves could save you from a mastectomy

Last updated at 11:44 PM on 25th January 2010 s

A new breast cancer treatment that uses microwaves to ‘cook’ tumours could save thousands of women from mastectomies.

Scientists pioneering the technique, called focused microwave thermotherapy, claim it can reduce the number of women needing a breast removed by up to 90 per cent.

Research shows the microwave treatment is especially effective when given at the same time as chemotherapy.

Advance: Microwaves, like those used for heating food as pictured here, can also cook breast tumours

Heating a tumour up to 50c not only destroys cancer cells, but also seems to simultaneously boost the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs.

A new study shows that even in women with large tumours - greater than 5cm in diameter - a mastectomy can be avoided by combining the two treatments.

This means surgeons can carry out a lumpectomy, a procedure where only the cancerous growth is removed, rather than the whole breast.

Numerous clinical trials are investigating microwave therapy, but it is unlikely to be routinely available Britain for several years.

Scientists spearheading its use are confident it will radically reduce the need for mastectomy - currently about one in three women diagnosed with the disease undergoes this surgery.

Researchers first became interested in the power of microwave energy to treat cancer more than a decade ago.

Tumours have a high water content, which makes them perfect for ‘boiling’ to temperatures where they self-destruct.

But the problem has been avoiding burning healthy surrounding tissue.

This has largely been overcome with the development of focused microwave therapy, where the heat is targeted on one spot.

Treatment time depends on the temperature. But at 50c, it can be just two minutes.

The latest research, carried out at Oklahoma University Cancer Institute in the U.S., shows that in women with large growths - who almost always end up with a mastectomy - tumours shrank by 88per cent when microwaves were used at the same time as chemotherapy. On its own, chemotherapy reduced them by only 58 per cent.

Jean Slocombe, senior cancer information nurse at Cancer Research UK, said: ‘This research is in the early stages.

‘More research is needed before we can know how useful this treatment is.’

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