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Freezing a cancer kills it in its place, and also appears to generate an
immune response that helps stop the cancer's spread, leading to
improved survival rates over surgery, according to a new study in mice
from researchers at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer
Researchers looked at two different cryoablation techniques, which
both involve applying a cold probe to a tumor to freeze it. The study
was done in mice with breast cancer. One method involves freezing the
tumor rapidly, in about 30 seconds; the other freezes the tumor slowly,
taking a few minutes. Results from the cryoablation were compared to
results from mice whose tumors were removed with surgery.
Both cryoablation techniques successfully killed the breast tumor.
The mice treated with the rapid freeze had fewer tumors that spread to
the lungs and improved survival compared to mice treated with surgery
alone or mice treated with the slower freezing technique. The study
showed that the benefit from the rapid freezing is likely due to changes
in the immune system that help to kill the tumor. Freezing with the
slower technique appeared to make the immune system not as able to kill
The study appears online in Annals of Surgical Oncology.
Based on these results from mice, researchers are now conducting a
clinical trial using cryoablation in patients with breast cancer. In
this trial, researchers use the rapid freezing technique.
"Cryoablation has strong potential as a treatment for breast cancer.
Not only does it appear effective in treating the primary tumor with
little cosmetic concerns, but it also may stimulate an immune response
capable of eradicating any cells that have traveled throughout the body,
reducing both local and distant recurrence, similar to giving a breast
cancer vaccine," says lead study author Michael Sabel, M.D., associate
professor of surgery at the U-M Medical School.
"What we learned in this study is that all cryoablation is not equal.
The technique used to freeze the tissue can have a significant impact
on how the immune system responds. The system we use today appears to be
ideal for both destroying the tumor within the breast and generating an
anti-cancer immune response," Sabel says.
U-M researchers are participating in a national clinical trial to
evaluate using cryoablation for early stage breast cancer. Participants
will undergo rapid freezing of their tumor, and their blood samples will
be analyzed to assess changes in their immune system. All participants
will be treated three to four weeks later with standard surgery to
remove their tumor.
Cryoablation is currently used routinely for prostate cancer, kidney
cancer and a variety of cancers that have spread to the liver and bone.
Breast cancer statistics:
192,280 Americans will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year and
40,610 will die from the disease, according to the American Cancer
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