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Last Updated: Saturday, 22 October 2005, 23:03 GMT 00:03 UK
'Freeze therapy' for lung cancers
Image of the surgery
The probe is inserted into the tumour to freeze it
Doctors are using a probe that freezes tumours at temperatures of -190C to treat lung cancer in patients who otherwise could not have surgery.

Normally surgeons aim to cut out the cancer but this is not always possible, for example if the patient is frail.

Using a special probe that turns the tumour into an ice-ball, surgeons at the Harefield Hospital in Middlesex have successfully treated 16 patients.

Seven of these had the operation over a year ago and are still disease free.

Freezing the tumour is far less damaging to the lung
Surgeon Mr Maiwand

Mr Omar Maiwand, the surgeon who carried out the operations, said about 2,000 lung cancer patients a year in the UK would be eligible for this treatment.

"Removal of the lung is the treatment of choice for patients with early stage lung cancer.

"However, for about 20% of these patients removing the diseased lung is not an option as it leaves them with severe breathing problems and a poor quality of life."

Another chance

The cryosurgery procedure involves making a cut of about 12cm in the chest wall so the probe can be advanced directly onto the tumour.

Liquid nitrogen is used as a coolant to freeze the tumour, which then disintegrates within the body over the next three to six month - which the scientists do not think is dangerous, with patients so far having good results.

The surgery is less invasive than the conventional way and the recovery time is typically shorter - patients treated with the direct pulmonary cryosurgery can go home after four days.

Cryosurgery is not a new technique and has been used on other organs and tissues in the body.

However, the Harefield team believe they are the first to use it in this way to treat lung cancer and say the results so far are extremely encouraging.

"Freezing the tumour is far less damaging to the lung.

More research

"The ideal patient is one who has an early cancer but with poor lung function," said Mr Maiwand.

Dr Siow Ming Lee, lung cancer expert from Cancer Research UK, said: "This is an interesting approach for patients who are not considered suitable for surgery because their tumours are more advanced than expected.

"However, this was a small study and further studies are needed to clarify the role of direct cryosurgery versus the conventional approach of radiotherapy and chemotherapy, before it can be recommended for patients whose tumours are found to be inoperable."

Lung cancer affects about 37,000 people in the UK.

Patients within the UK will need to be referred from their GP to Mr Maiwand for direct pulmonary cryosurgery.

More information and advice about the surgery can be obtained form the Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Trust.

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