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Ice technology developed by a UK company is allowing women with non-cancerous breast tumours to be treated successfully in their doctor’s surgery rather than in hospital.
The treatment, developed by technology and product development company, Cambridge Design Partnership (CDP) and its client Sanarus Medical Inc based in California involves inserting a thin probe into the breast tumour which is then frozen at temperatures of -20 to -40 degrees centigrade.
The frozen tumour dies and over time is reabsorbed by the body.
Ultrasound is used to “image” the growth of the ice ball during the freezing process, making sure that only the affected tissues are frozen.
The treatment is quick, painless and takes less than 30 minutes to treat a large tumour of perhaps 4 cm, while most take less than 15 minutes.
General practitioners (GPs) are reluctant to become involved in cryosurgery because the equipment needed is generally bulky, cumbersome, difficult to use and intimidating for the patient. Also the main gas involved, argon, is difficult to obtain and is contained in large torpedo like tubes which weigh around 75kg each and need securing to a wall.
The main alternative for GPs was to recommend surgery with all its associated emotional trauma. Plus, the surgery would leave scarring and the ‘void’ left by removing the tumour could disfigure the shape of the breast. Additionally, there are always risks attached to a general anaesthetic as well as the possibility of infection, and patients can also expect a 2-3 day recovery period.
The technique developed by CDP and Sanarus, replaces argon with liquid nitrogen which is stored in 1 litre flasks. This breakthrough opened up the possibility to create a small, portable unit, called Visica 2, which is much easier to use, is not intimidating and more ‘user friendly’ for both the GP and the patient.
The procedure requires a tiny 3mm incision in the breast which is then covered by a normal plaster and no stitches are necessary.
Dr Keith Turner from Cambridge Design Partnership who led the UK team commented: “This breakthrough means that a woman diagnosed with a non-cancerous breast tumour can pop into her doctor’s surgery, receive treatment and then get on with her day – in less time than it takes to do the weekly shop.”
The most common cause of benign breast lumps is the over development of fibrous tissue called fibro adenoma which, if it continues to grow, can become uncomfortable. Many women opt for surgical removal because they find the tumours emotionally and physically unacceptable.
Rather than an operating theatre, surgeons, anaesthetist, recovery nurses, physical scarring and emotional trauma, the new procedure is reduced to a doctor’s surgery, excellent cosmetic results and a dramatically reduced treatment time.