To successfully treat breast cancer therapies must be designed individually and strategically in order to outsmart the disease and restore a patient’s health. The problem is that many treatments are so invasive and aggressive that they can destroy the health of the patient along with the disease. However, new developments in breast cancer treatment are showing promise as less invasive options that can help a patient fight cancer and protect the integrity of their health at the same time.
New Targeted Radiation Therapies Kill Cancer Cells and Protect Healthy Tissue
Radiation is the standard form of care after breast-conserving surgery (lumpectomy) for women under 70 years of age, and there are several options that are being studied and are currently available in some facilities. Intra-operative Radiation (IOP), for example, is a technique that applies radiation to the affected area during surgery. The radiation is focused directly on the surgical field and spares surrounding healthy tissue. This is a highly desirable option, as it can replace the typical 5-6 weeks of post-lumpectomy radiation usually recommended, but not every individual is a candidate.
Accelerated Partial Breast Irradiation (APBI) is another approach being developed that uses small catheters that are inserted into the cavity left by the lumpectomy procedure. There are several systems being used with different variations in equipment and technique. This is a form of brachytherapy, which uses radioactive seeds to deliver the radiation. Five days of this technique replaces six weeks of whole breast radiation, greatly limiting the exposure of healthy tissue to radiation. This can be a significant advantage, particularly for women with left -sided breast cancer, as the usual whole breast radiation technique can impact heart tissue as well as the lungs, ribs and skin.
Freeze Cancer in its Tracks
Cryotherapy is a technique that uses a probe to freeze the abnormal and surrounding tissue, and has been used for many years in treating cervical dysplasia and prostate cancer. Application to breast cancer lesions is a new development for this therapy, but it has the potential to become a less invasive option than surgical removal for treating early breast cancer. Researchers at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center conducted a study last year using mice with breast cancer lesions and found that rapid freezing not only killed the tumors, but generated an immune response that helped stop further spreading. This result ultimately led to improved survival when compared to surgery. Cryotherapy treatment for breast cancer is currently available in a limited number of centers throughout the United States.
Microwave Radar Targets Just the Tumor Sites
Another technique in development uses radar technology. The microwave energy from a powerful device is focused on the tumor, sparing healthy surrounding tissue. This form of therapy works by taking advantage of the fact that water molecules are more plentiful in breast tumors, compared to surrounding normal tissue, and that microwaves strongly excite water molecules. Computer algorithms combined with the heating effects on water-rich abnormal tissue allow an even greater concentration of energy at the tumor site while nearby tissue remains unaffected. This technology is in clinical trials in a setting where pretreatment of larger tumors would allow a lumpectomy rather than a mastectomy. This is traditionally performed with pre-surgical chemotherapy. In a Phase II trial comparing chemotherapy with this technology, almost 80 percent of treated breast tumors had a volume reduction of 80 percent or more, compared to only 20 percent of tumors treated by chemotherapy alone. In addition, this method appears to sensitize tumors to the effects of chemotherapy. The device has been approved by the FDA for a Phase III trial and once this is successfully completed, it should be well on its way to being launched.
New Treatments, New Hope
These breast cancer treatment techniques are forming the basis for further highly targeted and strategic cancer fighting methods to emerge within mainstream medicine. The cross-field discussion amongst professionals in physics, engineering and medicine is generating much needed creative collaborations that are offering hope for techniques and equipment that can provide less invasive, more focused treatment with significantly less damage to healthy tissues.