Fighting cancer on your lunch break

October 26, 2011 3:10:27 PM PDT
Each year, 230 thousand people are diagnosed with breast cancer. One in six of those will die, but if detected early, a new treatment from Sweden could have patients in and out of the hospital and cancer-free on their lunch break.

For 17 years, Gunilla Pilo enjoyed a challenging career planning dinners for the Nobel prize held each year at City Hall in Stockholm, Sweden. But after retiring last year, she faced a bigger challenge. Doctors found a cancerous tumor in her breast.

"It was a shock," Pilo says.

She enrolled in a research study on a new technique to kill breast tumors started by Professor Hans Wiksell, a professor of medical technology at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, known as preferential radio frequency ablation, or PRFA.

The technique consists of placing a thin electrode guided by ultrasound into the tumor. The tumor is then heated to 167-degrees, killing it and leaving the surrounding tissue unharmed.

"The DNA and other things inside dies, so it could not live anymore, it could not divide anymore," Wiksell explains. "As soon as you have done it you can say to the patient that now the tumor cannot spread anymore."

The goal is to catch the tumors at an early stage for the best results.

"Those women, if we can get them to go through minimally invasive therapy instead of surgery, it will help them a lot," says Karin Leifland, MD, PhD Mammography physician and head of the Unilabs mammography department at Capio St. Göran's hospital in Stockholm.

The non-invasive surgery can be done in an hour, with no scars and no recovery time.

"You could do it at your lunch time and then go back and work afterwards. You don't really feel anything," Pilo says.

Thanks to PRFA, Pilo is now cancer-free and enjoying the beauty around her.

There are six standard treatments currently used for breast cancer including surgery, sentinel lymph node biopsy, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and targeted therapy. Researchers at Karolinska University and St. Göran Hospital in Sweden are continuing their study of PRFA with elderly women who are often not fit for surgery because of their age.

So far, the PRFA technique has worked 100 percent of the time for this population.