Researchers have developed a new technique that destroys tumours by freezing them and may eliminate the need for painful surgery in breast cancer patients.
A supercooled needle tip repeatedly freezes then defrost tumours so that the harmful tissue is damaged and ultimately dies, `The Telegraph` reported.
The technique does not require anaesthetic and can be completed in about 15 minutes. It could also provide a better alternative to the current method of surgery, which requires women to stay in hospital for up to a week and can leave scars.
The procedure uses a needle cooled to -170 degree Celsius by pumping liquid nitrogen through a network of tiny tubes, allowing the surgeon to control the size of ice ball produced to ensure it freezes the entire tumour.
Scientists said it could be used on cancerous masses up to the size of a golf ball.
It has already been used on benign tumours and doctors have now begun a trial of the procedure in 30 breast cancer patients.
"The cells in the human body are made mainly of water, which means they freeze," said chief executive Hezi Himmelfarb from the Israel-based company IceCure Medical, which developed the device.
"There have been attempts before to use heat to destroy cancer cells like this, but that can be extremely painful because our bodies are very sensitive to heat," Himmelfarb said.
"Cold has an anaesthetising effect, so the patients feel very little pain during or after the procedure," Himmelfarb said.
"We have developed the system so it can be carried out in a normal doctors` surgery as it is minimally invasive and relatively quick," Himmelfarb added.
The procedure, known as cryoablation, controls the size of the ice ball produced to ensure that the tumour can be destroyed without damaging healthy tissue.
"There is very little scarring as it is only the needle that is inserted and the tumour does not need to be removed," added Himmelfarb.
Nearly 50,000 women a year are diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK, with 18,000 mastectomies carried out. About 39,000 lumpectomies, where a lump is removed from the breast, are carried out annually.
One in five women who have a lumpectomy requires further surgery because not all of the tumour has been removed. It is hoped cryoablation will help to increase the amount of a tumour that can be destroyed, the paper said.
Dr Eisuke Fukuma, director for breast cancer at the Kameda Medical Centre in Chiba, Japan, who is conducting the trial, has treated 13 patients and none has shown signs of recurrence yet.
Scientists believe cryoablation could also be used to treat kidney, prostate and liver cancer.