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Experimental Microwave Treatment May Reduce Breast Cancer Surgeries (dateline November 12, 1999)

Researchers at the Columbia Hospital Center for Breast Care in West Palm Beach, Florida will conduct a new breast cancer clinical study that uses heat energy from microwaves to kill breast tumors. If successful, the new microwave tumor treatment may reduce the number of breast cancer surgeries (lumpectomy or mastectomy) performed each year.

The researchers are currently enrolling ten women with breast cancer who are already planning mastectomy surgeries since the breast will have to be removed after the trial to ensure that the tumor has been destroyed and the surrounding breast tissue has remained healthy. Candidates for the trial must have been diagnosed with one invasive breast tumor 3 cm or less in diameter.

The clinical trial, sponsored by the Celsion Corporation, is based on the simple idea that heat kills tumors. Doctors apply heat to the breast tissue to destroy the cancer. Until recently, researchers have not been able to effectively kill breast cancer cells without inadvertently harming healthy cells, limiting the use of microwaves to the treatment of skin tumors. However, recent animal trials with microwave treatment reveal no damage to tissue surrounding the tumors. Most of the animals only experienced mild side effects from the treatment, including skin redness and blisters.

In a press release, Dr. Gardner, medical director at Columbia’s breast center, expressed his enthusiasm for microwave treatment, believing it may significantly improve treatment results and ultimately lead to a gentler approach to breast cancer treatment than surgery. In animal trials performed in 1998 at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and Oxford University in England, microwave treatment killed breast tumors in more than 90% of cases, said Dr. Gardner.

According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women after lung cancer and is the leading cause of cancer deaths among women between 40 and 55 years of age. It is estimated that more than 180,000 American women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year and 43,000 will die from the disease.

While the American Cancer Society (ACS) supports alternative treatments to surgery, ACS’s breast and cervical cancer director, Debbie Saslow, PhD, does not call the experimental microwave breast cancer treatment a breakthrough for modern medicine. Saslow warns that many treatments which have shown to be effective in animals have not produced the same results in humans.

Nonetheless, the researchers remain optimistic about microwave treatment. A second Phase I microwave clinical trial will also be conducted at Harbor UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, California, and microwaves are currently being used in a trial at the Montefiore Hospital in New York to unblock prostate glands in men with benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH).

In addition to reducing breast surgeries, microwave treatment could save patients money on hospital stays or radiation therapy . It is estimated that half a million women undergo radiation therapy each year, often following lumpectomy or in conjunction with other breast cancer treatments. Microwave treatment could mean that fewer women would experience swollen or hard breasts after radiation, said Dr. Gardner.

Microwave treatment is based on technology the United States used during the Gulf War to disable radar and identify missiles.

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