A small study of patients with stage I or stage II non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) concludes that radiofrequency ablation is safe, feasible, and resulted in complete destruction of viable cancer cells in three of eight patients. These results were published in the journal Chest.

Lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S. and Europe. Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)is the most common type of lung cancer; it accounts for approximately 75%–80% percent of all lung cancer.

Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is a minimally invasive technique that uses heat to destroy cancer cells. During RFA, an electrode is placed directly into the tumor with the guidance of a CT scan, ultrasound, or laparoscopy. The electrode’s high frequency radio waves create intense heat, which destroys the cancer cells. RFA is being explored in the treatment of several types of cancer, including lung, kidney, and liver cancers. Previous studies of RFA have most often focused on patients who are unable to tolerate surgery or those whose cancer is considered inoperable.

To explore the safety and feasibility of RFA in the treatment of NSCLC, researchers evaluated 10 patients with stage I or stage II NSCLC. RFA was performed after a thoracotomy (surgery to open the chest wall). After RFA, patients underwent standard surgery to remove the cancerous area of the lung and nearby lymph nodes.

Complete information about outcome was available for eight of the ten patients. The lung tissue that was removed was evaluated for viable cancer cells. (The absence of viable cancer cells would suggest that RFA had successfully destroyed the cancer.)

Seven of the eight tumors (88%) contained more than 80% nonviable cancer cells. Three tumors consisted entirely of nonviable cells. Smaller tumors were more likely to have complete destruction of viable cancer cells after RFA, whereas larger tumors were more likely to have incomplete destruction of viable cancer cells. There were no complications related to heat or bleeding.

The researchers conclude that RFA for treatment of NSCLC is feasible and safe. Complete destruction of viable cancer cells occurred in 38% of stage I or stage II NSCLC patients treated with RFA. The patients who had complete destruction of viable cancer cells were those with smaller tumors (less than 2 cm). The researchers note that additional investigation will be necessary to fully understand the long-term efficacy of RFA for NSCLC.

Reference: Nguyen CL, Scott WJ, Young NA et al. Radiofrequency Ablation of Primary Lung Cancer. Chest. 2005;128:3507-3511.

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