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Israeli startup freezes breast tumors

Probe that freezes some breast tumors
IceSense
Minimally invasive system is used for small, early-stage tumors

An Israeli firm is marketing a minimally invasive system that freezes small, early-stage breast tumors. The system has received the approval of the US Food and Drug Administration for benign tumors and clinical tests are under way in Japan and the United States to determine its effectiveness on cancerous growths.

Cryoablation, as the technique is called, is generally used to remove skin blemishes, but some companies, like IceCure, have developed it to freeze tumors too.

IceCure CEO Hezi Himelfarb, an engineer, told Haaretz that the product does not require an operating room, nor a surgeon: a gynecologist or radiologist can use the device to freeze the tumor within seven to 15 minutes, under a local anaesthetic.

The freezing is done using a slim probe, encased in liquid nitrogen at -170 degrees Celsius, which inserted into the tumor. No liquid nitrogen contacts the body, but the sheer cold of the probe creates an iceball of frozen tissue, Haaretz reports.

“If the tumor is benign and two centimeters in diameter, then we create a two-centimeter iceball. If our tumor is cancerous and is two centimeters in diameter, we want an iceball of four-five centimeters in order to have a safety margin, exactly as the surgeon does when excising and removing the tumor,” Himelfarb told Haaretz.

The process is closely monitored – from navigating the probe to freezing – using ultrasound. One is left with a lump of dead tissue in the breast. The body gets rid of necrotic tissue naturallyover days or even weeks, during which time there is a palpable lump, but it will vanish, Himelfarb is quoted as reassuring.

Cryoablation is only appropriate for small, roughly symmetrical growths. The company treats benign growths up to five centimeters in diameter, but if the growth is malignant, it draws the line at two centimeters. Put otherwise: “We treat only early-stage, low-risk breast cancer,” Himelfarb explains.

The technology has received FDA approval in the United States and the CE mark in Europe, for use of the device on benign and malignant growths. It’s already being sold in the United States, Hong Kong, Italy and Thailand.

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