Ultrasound beams are being investigated as a way to destroy cancer cells without surgery.
British doctors are developing a revolutionary new therapy for cancer and associated conditions based on the use of high-powered beams of ultrasound.
The researchers – working at the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), at the Royal Marsden hospital in Sutton, outside London – have already used the technology to kill harmful tissue deep inside the bodies of patients suffering from metastatic bone lesions – without recourse to any form of surgery. And in future, doctors believe they will also use ultrasound to zap prostate, breast and other tumours. “This technology has immense potential,” said Professor Gail ter Haar, who is based at the institute.
An example of the technology’s power is provided by Moira Baker (not her real name), a 52-year-old former teacher who lives in Kew, London. Two years ago she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Shortly afterwards she was also found to have bone lesions caused by the metastatic spread of her cancer. Baker received chemotherapy that has left her in remission for her condition. However, her bone lesions continued to cause considerable pain which standard treatments, including radiotherapy, failed to alleviate. So she was selected to be treated with ultrasound to blast the cells in her bones that were triggering her pain.
“It transformed my life,” Baker told the Observer. “Stretching an arm or dressing was excruciatingly painful. After ultrasound, I was much better. I now have a normal life again.”
Apart from helping patients with bone lesions like Baker’s, and developing new ways to kill prostate cancer and breast tumours, high-intensity focused ultrasound (Hifu) could also be used to release specially designed capsules of cancer drugs inside a tumour, say researchers.
“The technology is completely noninvasive and allows us to monitor changes we are making inside a person instantly,” said Thomas Andreae, therapy director at Philips, which is collaborating with the ICR on the project. “It has all sorts of possible applications.”
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