Cryo-surgery that removes breast tumours in minutes


London: Breakthrough ice technology developed by a British company means that many thousands of women with non-cancerous breast tumours can now be successfully treated in their doctors surgery rather than having to endure a hospital operation.

The treatment, developed by technology and product development company, Cambridge Design Partnership (CDP) and its client Sanarus Medical Inc based in California involves inserting a thin probe into the breast tumour which is then frozen at temperatures of -20 to -40 degrees centigrade.

The frozen tumour dies and over time is reabsorbed by the body.

Ultra sound is used to ‘image’ the growth of the ice ball during the freezing process making sure that only the affected tissues are frozen.

The treatment is quick, painless and takes less than 30 minutes to treat a large tumour of perhaps 4cm, while most take less than 15 minutes.

Prior to the development, GPs were reluctant to become involved in cryo-surgery because the equipment needed was bulky, cumbersome, difficult to use and intimidating for the patient. Also the main gas involved, argon, is difficult to obtain and is contained in large torpedo like tubes which weigh around 75 kilos each and need securing to a wall.

The main alternative for GPs was to recommend surgery with all its associated emotional trauma. Plus, the surgery would leave scarring and the ‘void’ left by removing the tumour could disfigure the shape of the breast. Additionally, there are always risks attached to a general anaesthetic as well as the possibility of infection, and patients can also expect a 2-3 day recovery period.

The technique developed by CDP and Sanarus, replaces argon with liquid nitrogen which is stored in 1 litre flasks. This breakthrough opened up the possibility to create a small, portable unit, called Visica 2, which is much easier to use, is not intimidating and more ‘user friendly’ for both the GP and the patient.

The procedure requires a tiny 3mm incision in the breast which is then covered by a normal plaster and no stitches are necessary.

Dr Keith Turner from Cambridge Design Partnership who led the UK team
commented: “This breakthrough means that a woman diagnosed with a non-cancerous breast tumour can pop into her doctor’s surgery, receive treatment and then get on with her day – in less time than it takes to do the weekly shop.”

The most common cause of benign breast lumps is the over development of fibrous tissue called fibro adenoma which, if it continues to grow, can become uncomfortable. Many women opt for surgical removal because they find the tumours emotionally and physically unacceptable.

Rather than an operating theatre, surgeons, anaesthetist, recovery nurses, physical scarring and emotional trauma, the new procedure is reduced to a doctor’s surgery, excellent cosmetic results and a dramatically reduced treatment time.



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The process


About cryonics

Cryonics is the process in which those who have died are preserved by keeping them at a very low temperature until a means is developed to reverse the cryonics process and a cure for their illness or death is found.

So far cryonics is only a theory. No adult human has ever been revived as a result of a cryonics procedure. Although human embryos can be successfully cryopreserved and revived.

The cryonics procedure is begun when the heart stops beating – cardiac arrest (legal death). Blood circulation and oxygenation are restored in the cryogenics patient, to prevent deterioration, and the cryonics preservation procedures begin.

It costs between $80 and $130,000 depending on whether you request whole body to neuropreservation. Many people pay for it with life insurance.

The majority of cryonics organisation are situated in the US. Michigan-based Alcor, for example, has 650 future patients signed-up and 59 cryopatients. Future patients have wristbands and a card giving detailed instructions on what should happen on their death ie that no post mortem is carried out.

Cryonics Europe, based in the UK, has a team of volunteers trained to carry out the first stages of the preservation process. This includes putting the body in a portable bath filled with dry ice and attaching it to a machine designed to maintain circulation – this stops the further deterioration of cells. The blood is then drained off and replaced with a glycerol which works a bit like anti-freeze. Then the corpse is wrapped in polythene, submerged in alcohol, placed with ice and insulated in a fibre-glass box before being airlifted to Alcor in Michigan. Once in Michigan is it immersed in liquid nitrogen which sends its temperature plunging to -196C.

More detailed information on the procedure can be obtained from the Alcor web site and the contacts in this section.