According to a recent article published in the journal Cancer, radiofrequency ablation may offer an effective, minimally invasive treatment for early-stage breast cancer.

Breast cancer is a common malignancy in the United States, with approximately 200,000 cases diagnosed annually. Since breast-conserving therapy (lumpectomy and radiation) has resulted in equal long-term outcomes as a mastectomy (complete removal of the breast) in patients with early-stage breast cancer, researchers are further investigating minimally invasive techniques for patients with this disease. A preliminary clinical trial was recently conducted to evaluate radiofrequency ablation in the treatment of early-stage breast cancer.

Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) 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 cancers of the breast. The doctor uses an imaging technique to visualize the cancer, such as an ultrasound or a computerized tomography (CT) scan. The doctor then guides the probe to the right spot(s) in the breast to deliver the high-energy radio waves that heat and ultimately destroy the cancer cells. The radio waves can also be delivered into the cancer during a surgical procedure. Researchers have been investigating RFA in liver cancer and have now extended the investigation of this technique to small breast cancers.

Researchers from Italy and the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center recently conducted a pilot trial evaluating RFA in patients with early-stage breast cancer. In this trial, 26 patients had either stage I or II breast cancer and the greatest average diameter of cancers treated was 1.8 centimeters. RFA was performed to destroy the breast cancer and 5 millimeters of surrounding breast tissue. Patients then immediately underwent surgery to remove the tissue treated to detect if all cancer cells had been destroyed. In 25 of 26 patients, the cancer was completely coagulated and destroyed and one patient had a microscopic amount of cancer cells adjacent to the needle site. Only one patient had any complications from RFA: a burn of the skin directly over the cancer site. The average time of RFA treatment was approximately 15 minutes.

Although these results are preliminary, researchers are excited about the results reported from this pilot study and have initiated a clinical trial in Europe further evaluating RFA in early-stage breast cancer patients. However, long-term outcomes will be necessary to truly determine the efficacy of RFA compared to standard treatment. Patients with early-stage breast cancer may wish to ask their physician about the risks and benefits of participating in a clinical trial evaluating RFA or other promising therapeutic approaches. Two sources of information regarding ongoing clinical trials include comprehensive, easy-to-use listing services provided by the National Cancer Institute (cancer.gov) and www.eCancerTrials.com. eCancerTrials.com also provides personalized clinical trial searches on behalf of patients. (Cancer, Vol 92, Issue 8, pp 2036-2044, 2001)

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