Author and MIT researcher Alan J. Fenn has written a book wherein he describes how he adapted the technology he invented for tracking missiles to the treatment of breast cancer.
Treating cancer with heat is not a new idea, but “researchers were having trouble using it to treat tumors deep within the body,” said Fenn. Further, it’s difficult to deliver the heat only to cancer cells without overheating normal tissue.
The microwaves in the new technique heat-and kill-cells containing high amounts of water and ions, or electrically charged atoms. Cancer cells typically have a high content of both, while healthy breast tissue contains much less. The outpatient procedure uses a single tiny needle probe to sense and measure parameters during treatment. Side effects appear to be minimal.
The first clinical study of the treatment involved 75 patients with early-stage breast cancer. Of the 34 patients who received the treatment prior to lumpectomy, none had viable cancer cells remaining at the surgical margins. Of the 41 patients who had a lumpectomy but did not receive the MIT treatment, four had cancer cells at the surgical margins.
This result is important for two reasons. First, additional breast surgery is often recommended for patients with cancer cells close to the edge of the lumpectomy surgical margin. Second, there is a higher risk of local recurrence of the breast cancer when cancer cells are found at the surgical margins. Fenn noted that all patients in both arms of the study received postoperative radiation therapy to reduce the risk of local recurrence.
Also presented in the new book are preliminary results for a study of the treatment in combination with preoperative chemotherapy for breast cancer patients with large tumors. “In this small feasibility study of 28 patients, one of the principal objectives was to increase tumor shrinkage with the combined use of focused microwave thermotherapy and preoperative chemotherapy,” Fenn said.
In this study tumors shrunk by approximately 50 percent more in women treated with both the MIT technique and chemotherapy, versus women treated with chemotherapy alone.