You’ve heard of express spa sessions of 45 minutes that have caught the attention of busy professionals. Now, advancements in cryotherapy treatment using cold temperatures have made it possible to treat early-stage cancers. This is achieved in the time span you order and polish off a pizza. And the good news is that it will be available in India “in the near future,” says Dr Vijay Agarwal, Lead and Senior Consultant at Medical Oncology, Aster RV Hospital, Bengaluru.
Before you hail cryoablation therapy as the next big treatment modality, you will need to remember that it can work only on early stage breast or cervical cancer. It cannot be used in advanced stages of any type of cancer because it kills only local and early cancerous cells, not the cells that have spread outside the organ. Also, this therapy modality cannot be administered to all early cancer patients because it has high chances of failure if the patient selection is not right.
In the last decade, we have seen well-known Bollywood actors such as Lisa Ray, Sonali Bendre and Nafisa Ali getting diagnosed with cancer and bravely battling the trauma, the pain and even the hair loss. Kristen Dahlgren, Shannen Doherty, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jessica St. Clair... have all fought cancer bravely and gracefully. Of course, we can never appreciate Hollywood superstar Angelina Jolie enough. At the age of 37, when she was told that she was genetically at great risk of developing breast cancer, she underwent a double mastectomy.
Many successful trials of cryoablation, also known as cryotherapy, have been done on patients with breast cancer in the US, Japan and European countries. The results have been positive. The technique has already received clearance from the US Food and Drug Administration for treating kidney, liver and other cancerous body parts. Recently, Taiwan and Russia approved the technique.
Recently, The Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation, the national regulatory body for pharmaceuticals and medical devices in India, granted a licence for minimally invasive cryoablation techniques. “The amazing results on early cancerous stages give us hope about the overall effectiveness of this technique,” says Dr Sunil Sudharshan, Consultant, General Surgery, Columbia Asia Hospital Hebbal unit of Manipal Hospitals, Bengaluru. Plus, it also works for those with lifestyle diseases such as hypertension, diabetes or obesity.
PGIMER, Chandigarh, currently has a facility that freezes and thaws cancer cells for treatment. They treat cancers, especially of prostate, bone, kidneys and liver.As cryotherapy does not require a hospital admission, it can be performed under local anaesthesia. The other benefit is that it does not leave scars. “Unlike other traditional surgeries, there is no change in the appearance of breasts,” assures Dr Asha Sharma, Director of Gynaecology, Medeor Hospital, Delhi.
But there are downsides that must be assessed carefully. Cryoablation therapy is more expensive than conventional treatment. Current cryoablation systems can cost upwards of `7 lakh, with over half of the cost coming from disposable, single-use parts. There is a chance of the cancer reoccurring. Patients have also reported temporary numbness, tingling, redness, or irritation of the skin.
Having said that, the treatment modality will bring hope to thousands of people, and with further advancements, it will reap better results.
Cryoablation is a unique technique where a hollow needle-like device is linked to a liquid nitrogen machine. The needle quickly reaches a temperature of -170°C (-274 F). Now the provider can administer the needle directly into the tumour. It makes an ice ball to cover the abnormal cells and tissues. The low temperature does not allow the abnormal cells to survive. Those cells die in the process and dissolve in the body.
Cryosurgery is used to treat...
● Several types of cancer, including a childhood cancer that affects the retina of the eye. Doctors have found that cryosurgery is most effective when the tumour is small and only in a particular part of the retina.
● Early-stage skin cancers
● Men with an early-stage prostate cancer, when it is confined to the prostate gland
1,62,468 new cases of breast cancer and 87,090 deaths from it were registered in 2018 in India
Third and fourth stages of the disease are visible among 50 percent of Indian women