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According to a recent article published in the journal Radiology, treatment with radiofrequency (RF) ablation appears to be well tolerated and effective for small breast cancers.

Patients with breast cancer that is 2 centimeters or less at the greatest diameter often undergo treatment with the surgical removal of the cancer and surrounding tissue (lumpectomy) and radiation therapy. Some patients may be treated with pre-operative chemotherapy, the complete removal of the breast (mastectomy), the addition of chemotherapy following surgery, and/or hormonal therapy. Researchers are evaluating ways in which to treat patients with small breast cancers with more non-invasive methods than surgery to reduce the risk of infection, scarring, pain, and to reduce medical costs.

One type of therapeutic approach that is being evaluated in various types of cancers is percutaneous RF ablation. RF ablation entails the use of high-energy radio waves that can be administered through the skin using a probe, about the size of a needle, into the tumor(s) in the breast. The surgeon uses an imaging scan, such as an ultrasound or a computerized tomography (CT) scan, to accurately guide the probe. The high-energy radio waves heat the cancer cells such that they later become coagulated and are destroyed.

Researchers from the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center recently conducted a clinical trial to evaluate RF ablation in the treatment of patients with early breast cancer. This trial included 20 patients who had breast cancer that was 2 centimeters or less in diameter. Patients underwent RF ablation, which involved placement of the probe into the cancer for approximately 15 minutes, followed by either a lumpectomy or a mastectomy. The cancer specimen obtained from surgery was analyzed in the laboratory to determine if RF ablation had killed all of the cancer cells in the specimen, as well as an adequate margin of healthy tissue surrounding the cancer. In all patients, RF ablation had killed all cancer cells in the tumor, as well as a margin of healthy tissue in the surgical specimen. One patient who had received pre-operative chemotherapy had residual cancer found on ultrasound at the time of RF ablation as well as mammography. However, the targeted cancer had been successfully destroyed through RF ablation. Treatment was well tolerated and considered safe.

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The researchers concluded that RF ablation appears effective in destroying small breast cancers, and is well tolerated. Future clinical trials may help define the role that RF ablation may play in the clinical setting for early breast cancer. Patients with early breast cancer may wish to speak with their physician about the risks and benefits of participating in a clinical trial further evaluating RF ablation or other promising therapeutic approaches. Two sources of information regarding ongoing clinical trials include the National Cancer Institute ( and Personalized clinical trial searches are also performed at

Reference: Bruno F, Sneige N, Ross M, et al. Small ( 2-cm) Breast Cancer Treated with US-guided Radiofrequency Ablation: Feasibility Study 1. Radiology. 2004; 231:215-224.

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