Microwaving tumors

February 16, 2010 9:43:04 AM PST
Fifty-seven-thousand people will be told they have kidney cancer this year, and 12,000 of them will die from it. Now, doctors are microwaving the cancer to kill it -- and keep it from coming back. He's a man of the movies.

"I love the movies," Louis Bershad said. "The old ones even more than the new ones, because I'm a film collector and a film buff."

Even though Bershad owns more than 1,500 films, the Hollywood talent manager was not ready for the plot change in his own story.

"He just picked up the MRI and looked at it and said it's definitely cancer, and when he said that, the meeting became a silent movie," Bershad said. "I could see his lips moving, but I heard nothing. It was absolute silence."

Bershad had kidney cancer. Surgery scared him, so Dr. Peter Julien gave him the option of microwaving the tumor.

"It basically cooks the tumor to death," said Dr. Julien, Chief of Thoracic Imaging at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California.

Microwaving tumors, or radio-frequency ablation, uses a needle that's inserted into the middle of the tumor. Guided by CT scans, doctors use electrical currents to heat the tumor.

"The energy that's delivered to the tumor is right at the needle tip," Dr. Julien explained. "It's very intense energy that can heat up the tumor to over 150 degrees. It can heat up the tumor basically to boiling."

Doctor's say there's no incision, minimal to no damage to surrounding organs, and patients can go home the same day.

"It's the best ending you could have," Bershad said. "Ending is a bad word. Let's just say the film is over, but the life goes on."

Bershad is back to job in Hollywood, only now, he has a new favorite film.

"The best film of all is when you get your MRI from your doctor and he says there's no cancer," Bershad said. "That's the best film I've ever seen."

The radiofrequency ablation procedure is also being used for cancers of the liver and lungs. This is a good option for patients who are not healthy enough or too old for surgery.