Technology developed to detect and destroy nuclear missiles could also help women with breast cancer, a study suggests.
The technique could help women with breast cancer
Doctors in the United States have found that high powered microwaves based on "Star Wars" defence technology can kill cancerous tumours.
They believe the technique is so effective that it could mean an end to disfiguring surgery for many women with the disease, enabling them to keep their own breasts.
Doctors at the University of California at Los Angeles Harbor Medical Center have used the experimental treatment on 25 women.
Generally, when a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer she undergoes a lumpectomy to remove the diseased tissue. Women with more advanced tumours need to have the entire breast removed in a mastectomy.
Heat and destroy
This latest technique involves using microwaves to heat and destroy cancer cells.
The software used to focus microwaves for tracking the trajectory of missiles was reconfigured to aim the electromagnetic waves directly at malignant tumour cells.
The treatment has little impact on healthy cells. Cancerous tumours contain much more water and are much more
susceptible to damage from heat.
Doctors found that the technique successfully destroyed cancerous tissue in 24 of the 25 women who took part in their study.
This is much more effective than a lumpectomy, which usually only clears cancer in one in four women.
The side-effects of the treatment ranged from redness and swelling to pain, although one woman was burned and was badly scarred.
The technique is seen as a way of improving treatment for women with breast cancer rather than improving survival rates.
"If proven effective, this treatment would mark a significant step forward in the treatment of breast cancer and
breast conservation," said Dr Hernan Vargas, chief of surgical oncology at the medical center and one of those involved in the study.
Doctors are now planning second stage clinical trials to see if the technology is as effective on a larger number of women.
The research results were presented in Los Angeles at a meeting of the Society of Surgical Oncology.