Cryoablation is a fairly new treatment being used to treat small cancer tumors. Could we soon see it offered as an alternative to traditional breast cancer surgeries?
Bonnie Annis is a breast cancer survivor, diagnosed in 2014 with stage 2b invasive ductal carcinoma with metastasis to the lymph nodes. She is an avid photographer, freelance writer/blogger, wife, mother and grandmother.
There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t regret having to have my breasts removed. Although, I know it was necessary in order to save my life, it has been a devastating and life altering experience. I can’t help but think about how things could have possibly been different.
Rethinking my entire breast cancer journey, from diagnosis forward, I wonder, at times, if I would have changed anything. If there were other options available, would I have opted not to have my breasts removed? I think I probably would have chosen another way but, at the time, I only had two options: lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation or mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. I opted for the latter minus the chemotherapy. But was it truly necessary to follow this treatment path? Could there have been an easier way?
In my constant search for information regarding innovative breast cancer treatments, I recently came across information regarding cryoablation. Unfamiliar with the term, I became intrigued. According to the information I gathered, cryoablation is a procedure used to kill cancer cells with extreme cold. The Mayo Clinic states that cryoablation may be used to treat cancer when surgery isn't an option. It is currently being used to help treat bone cancer, cervical cancer, cancers of the eye, kidney, liver, lung and prostate. It is also being used to treat benign breast tumors.
During treatment, a local anesthesia is applied to limit any potential discomfort or pain. A thin, wand-like needle (cryoprobe) is inserted into the skin and directed into the cancerous tumor by means of ultrasound guidance. During the treatment, liquid nitrogen is passed into the probe creating extremely cold temperatures that destroy the targeted breast tumor. The tissue is allowed to freeze and then thaw. The freezing and thawing process is repeated several times during the same treatment session. Freezing the tumor does not harm the surrounding tissues and does not produce significant scarring. Over time, the body’s normal healing processes reabsorb the tumor cells frozen by the cryoablation procedure. The procedure is very short, usually lasting between 10 to 15 minutes and can be performed in an outpatient setting. Acetaminophen may be used for discomfort and the patient can resume normal activities the same day.
Cryoablation is now being studied in patients with certain types of small breast cancer tumors. According to a review published by the National Institute of Health (NIH), "cryoablation could be an alternative to surgical excision of breast cancer." Since this procedure is minimally invasive, it shows some advantages compared to traditional surgery. Cryoablation provides for a minimal incision, no outer scars, less pain, shorter recovery periods and higher cost-effectiveness. It can also be performed under local anesthesia as opposed to general anesthesia. The NIH also says, "cryotherapy of breast tumors can be a feasible method for the eradication of malignant breast tumors. It has proven value in the destruction of cancer cells within the cryozone in different malignancies (skin cancers, liver and prostate tumors)." Currently, the use of cryoablation is being used only on patients with small, unifocal tumors such as fibroadenomas.
Early research has produced promising results for the use of cryoablation as treatment for certain types of breast cancer tumors. In 2014, the American College of Surgeons Oncology Group announced that cryoablation showed potential as an alternative to surgery for selected women with early-stage invasive ductal breast cancer (IDC). In a phase 2 trial, exploring cryoablation therapy in the treatment of IDC, researchers declared that all breast cancer tumors less than 1 centimeter in diameter treated with cryoablation had no residual cancer after treatment. The success rate for cancers of any size was approximately 80 percent.
Research investigating cryoablation for the treatment of IDC is promising, but will take time to become standard care. Hopefully, this procedure proves to be a useful technology in breast cancer treatment that can help select patients avoid the risks associated with surgery and treat their cancer in a less invasive fashion.
If cryoablation had met testing and approval for larger sized tumors like mine, I would have been happy to have the treatment used on me at the time of my diagnosis. The thoughts of no invasive scars or significant trauma to my body are very appealing. Perhaps in the future, cryoablation will be one of the first choices presented to women with breast tumors. It is my hope this type treatment could be used for not only the smaller sized tumors, but also for the larger ones. I’m thankful research continues and new procedures are being discovered. For those affected by breast cancer, hope is one of the most important gifts we can ever receive.