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New weapon against cancer: Punching holes in tumors

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
April 16th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

A new procedure - i.e., a minimally invasive cancer treatment that punches microscopic holes in tumors without disrupting nearby healthy tissue could be the latest weapon in the war against cancer. Called irreversible electroporation, or IRE, the technique uses millions of electrical pulses per second to kill cancer cells but spare nearby tissue.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "IRE may be especially beneficial in treating liver, lung, pancreatic and other cancers that are close to blood vessels, nerves and other sensitive structures," researchers say.

Cancers near sensitive sites usually involves surgery and a technique known as thermoablation, which heats and then freezes the tumor. This procedure, however, can damage healthy tissue, posing a risk to nearby major blood vessels, nerves, ducts and other vital structures.

Involving 25 patients who suffered with cancer that had spread to various parts of their body, the average size of the tumor in the study was two centimeters. IRE was utilized on account of the location of the lesions.

Dr. Constantinos Sofocleous, an interventional radiologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, completed all 30 treatment sessions. The operations were completed successfully with no major complications, proving IRE to be safe enough for further investigation in larger clinical trials.

Presenting his findings at the Society of Interventional Radiology's 38th Annual Scientific Meeting in New Orleans, he said that "the treatment appears to be especially beneficial in people with cancer that has spread and who do not have good treatment options."

The procedure involves making an incision the size of a pencil tip and feeding a tiny instrument to target the tumors. Strong electric fields are then generated to create tiny holes in the cancer cell membranes.

This kills the tumors by disrupting the balance of molecules inside and outside the cell. As the procedure does not generate heat or cold, it stops surrounding cells becoming damaged, making it ideal for treating tumors close to tissues that is vulnerable to damage.

By increasing the strength, and duration of the electric pulses, the pores in the cancer cells remain open permanently, causing microscopic damage to the cells, and they die.

At a minimum, Sofocleous says, the treatment offers the patient an improved quality of life.

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