MONDAY, March 26 (HealthDay News) -- In a small and preliminary
study, researchers report that they successfully froze secondary
tumors in patients with incurable breast cancer.
The findings raise the prospect of a potential new treatment for
metastatic tumors in individual patients, although the research is
in the very early stages.
"This therapy provides a minimal rate of cancer recurrence and no major complications," study co-author Dr. Peter Littrup, director of imaging core and radiology research at the Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit, said in a news release from the Society of Interventional Radiology.
The study is scheduled to be presented Wednesday at the
society's annual meeting in San Francisco. Research presented at
medical meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in
a peer-reviewed medical journal.
"This is a preliminary study, and at this point we're hoping that the evidence could be a stepping stone for a bigger study to look at more patients," Littrup said. "If we can get more data that supports percutaneous cryoablation for metastatic breast cancer, it could be a huge finding."
In percutaneous cryoablation, tiny probes insert pressurized
argon gas into tumors and kill them by turning them into balls of
The eight patients in the study had stage 4 metastatic breast
cancer, meaning their tumors had spread widely from the breast. The
tumors frequently appear in organs such as the liver, lungs, bones
In stage 4, the disease is considered incurable.
"At this point, treatments are considered palliative -- with the intent to keep metastases at bay while hopefully providing individuals more time and improved quality of life, rather than a complete cure," Littrup said.
"Cryoablation as a targeted therapy is beneficial because it can significantly reduce discomfort and incidence of disease," Littrup said. "It's a much better option, we think, than surgery -- especially since many metastatic patients are not candidates for surgery -- and it may potentially lead to longer survival."
The eight patients in the study lived for an average of 46
months, and two survived for at least five years.
Dr. Hannah Linden, an oncology specialist and assistant
professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine in
Seattle, said it's too early to know whether the treatment works
since it hasn't been compared to other therapies.
"Many patients with metastatic breast cancer live a long time with gentle treatments, yet other patients who have relatively resistant tumors do poorly," she said. "While the idea of freezing a tumor to prevent it from growing is feasible and exciting, it is not proven that such an approach actually 'cures' patients or provides long-term benefit."
Although similar treatments target secondary tumors, she added,
they "do not address the systemic problem of metastatic cancer. So,
while it seems good to 'kill' the metastasis, the cancer is still
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women, killing
nearly 370,000 people worldwide each year. Approximately 10,000 to
15,000 new cases of stage 4 breast cancer occur in the United
States each year, Littrup noted.
For more about
breast cancer, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.