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Saturday, February 27, 1999 Published at 09:11 GMT


Cold cure for cancer

Research conducted at Mississippi University's Medical Center

A revolutionary cancer therapy has been developed in the USA in which tumours are shrunk by freezing them.

The method has been used to treat six people since last July. It has diminished growths in patients who were in the final stages of cancer by up to 30%.

The treatment was developed by doctors at Mississippi University's Medical Center.

It involves freezing and thawing cancer cells repeatedly, until they disintegrate.

Ice crystals turn living organisms, like fruit or vegetables, to mush. This is because as the fruit begins to freeze, microscopic ice crystals pierce its cells, causing them to rupture and fall apart.

[ image: MRI scans to track progress]
MRI scans to track progress
Dr Patrick Sewell at Mississippi University is applying this common sense in the kitchen in cancer clinics.

Called cryoablation, the technique involves freezing and thawing cancer cells repeatedly until they disintegrate. The body then treats the shattered cells as waste and the tumour shrinks.

The method's success relies on being able to guide a probe to the edge of the tumour, so it can be frozen and thawed without damaging healthy organs nearby.

To do this, Dr Sewell uses a magnetic resonance image scanner, which can watch the activity of water inside the cancerous tissues.

If a tumour is relatively small, or completely self-contained, cryoablation can be just as successful as surgery in ridding patients of cancer.

Even in people whose tumours have spread through their bodies, it can relieve pain and prolong their lives.

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