Cancer sufferers in the developing world could soon have Western standards of surgery at a fraction of the cost, scientists in Israel have said.
Conventional laser surgery equipment is expensive
A technique using an off-the-shelf lamp and fibre optics is being developed as an alternative to expensive laser surgery, New Scientist reports.
Researchers at Ben Gurion University in Beersheva say the method could be used for operating on malignant tumours.
A UK expert said the technique could have some uses in the developing world.
Laser surgery is used often to remove tumours by simply burning them out, instead of traditional techniques of physically cutting them out of the body with a scalpel.
Jeffrey Gordon, who led the research, said laser surgery worked well but the costs were "exorbitant".
"While affluent medical centres have laser equipment, most do not. Most in Israel can't afford them - and it's the same in many places in the world."
'100 times cheaper'
He said his research, also published in the Journal of Biomedical Optics, used a lamp of the kind that is used in cinema projection units.
"We used a new generation of ultra-bright lamp - brighter than car headlamps - which can be harnessed if you develop the proper optic to harness it," he said.
"We performed surgery on livers and kidneys of rats and the results were at least as good as the corresponding results one reads about in laser surgery.
"But our technique is 100 times cheaper."
Professor Gordon's team has previously used light from the sun to perform operations, but he said the scheme had to be abandoned because of the "ephemeral nature of sunlight".
Professor Steve Bown, director of the National Medical Laser Centre at the Royal Free and University College Medical School, London, said the biological effect of using a lamp rather than the laser was the same - heat was being applied to destroy damaged tissue.
But he added: "The problem with the light from an ordinary lamp is that it is difficult to focus the light on the end of a thin fibre.
"For lasers, we use fibres of 0.2 to 0.6mm diameter - anything bigger becomes pretty inflexible. These researchers are using a 1mm fibre."
Professor Bown said thinner fibres were better, as they were less invasive and so theoretically safer.
But he said the lamp therapy could have some benefits.
"It might be useful for liver cancers in the developing world and possible for people with advanced breast cancers, but complete ablation [excision] of tumours would require imaging to target the cancer - and that's not so available in developing countries."