Page last updated at 12:58 GMT, Thursday, 26 November 2009

Rectal cancer tumour destroyed by ultrasound is a first

Rectal cancer cells
Almost 38.000 patients suffer from rectal cancer per year in the UK

A patient with rectal cancer has become the first to have part of their tumour destroyed by ultrasound, say UK doctors.

A team of radiologists, surgeons and oncologists at Hammersmith Hospital in London used high intensity ultrasound to heat up and kill the cancer.

They say the technique will allow faster and more accurate targeting of tumours than conventional treatments.

Hammersmith Hospital will offer the treatment to advanced stage patients.

But one expert cautioned that ultrasound treatment could not deal with all the effects of the cancer on its own.

High intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) is carried out under general anaesthetic.

The device can treat tumours up to about 40cc volume and can heat the tissue up to 90 degrees centigrade

First patient

The first patient to have the procedure has requested anonymity.

Almost 38,000 patients suffer from rectal cancer per year in the UK
Approximately a third of these cancers are within the rectum
Patients often suffer from tenesmus - a painful condition where they find it difficult to empty their bowels and need frequent trips to the toilet

The patient was given a low dose of heat at 70 degrees.

Doctors say they are planning to treat 50 more patients and they will closely monitor them to discover the most effective temperature at which to perform the procedure.

Unlike radiotherapy, HIFU, can be given to a patient a number of times with minimal risk of toxicity.

The study leader, Professor Paul Abel, from Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, said: "There is no incision made during the procedure, it's completely non-invasive, so recovery time will be quicker too.

"As this is the first time this procedure has ever been performed for rectal cancer, we need to study a wider group of patients to assess how effective the treatment is and whether it has the potential to be curative or to lengthen a patient's life."

A spokesman for the charity Beating Bowel Cancer said it welcomes "advances to improve the quality of patients' lives and relieve symptoms".

"As this is a world first, we look forward to further studies and results with more patients over a longer period."

Dr Robert Glynne-Jones, medical director of Bowel Cancer UK, said the difficulty was that ultrasound could not deal with cases where the cancer had spread into the lymph glands of the body.

He said: "We already have a number of ways of dealing with rectal cancer but this may be useful for when the screening programme gets going and we can see very early tumours in the future."

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