A new way to kill breast tumors by freezing them may spare some women from surgery, if a clinical trial proves successful.
A new way to cure breast cancer -- without surgery -- is being studied locally.
Lori Burrows was shocked when she got the news she had breast cancer.
"It was devastating, very scary. I knew I would have to have surgery," she said.
Then, she heard about a groundbreaking clinical trial that might cure her breast cancer -- by freezing it.
"The procedure is done in the office, under local anesthesia, so the woman doesn't need to go in the hospital. The scarring, you can't get any less than this. It's done through a 3 millimeter nick in the skin," said Dr. Deanna Attai, who is heading up the trial locally.
During the procedure, Attai locates the exact location of the tumor with an ultrasound, and then inserts the probe into the tumor. Then the freezing begins.
"Through the center of the probe, liquid nitrogen flows. The liquid nitrogen will cool the tumor down to minus 160 degrees. That's very cold. Cells cannot survive that degree of cold. So the tumor cells are killed," Attai said.
The patient is awake during the 20-minute procedure, and afterwards gets a bandage and goes home.
"Dr. Attai asked me to touch it. It was like an ice cube," Burrows said.
The lump eventually melts and the dead tissue gets reabsorbed into the body. Attai says this process may have the added benefit of triggering anti-bodies to the tumor, and fighting off recurrence of the cancer.
"Everyone who's examined me, they say it's like normal tissue there. Nothing left behind is abnormal," Burrows said.
The trial has been going on for a year, and has enrolled about 30 women.
"So far, the results look very good, and it looks very promising and we're all very excited that this might lead to the next step in cancer care, which might be non-operative therapy," Attai said.
Lori is a year out of the procedure, and her follow-up MRI shows she is cancer free.
"It's precise. Beautiful. The result is fantastic," she said.
As part of the clinical trial, patients undergo an MRI after the procedure to see the results of the freezing. Attai then does do surgery to verify the results that she sees on the MRI. So right now, women will need the surgery for the study. In the future, they might not need surgery at all. The trial will enroll women who have a small tumor on one site of the breast.
For more information on the trial visit the websites of Center for Breast Care, Inc. and American College of Surgeons Oncology Group.