Freezing Tumors in Their Tracks

An estimated 10% of women aged 15 to 35 years develop fibroadenomas.

These non-cancerous (benign) breast tumors are, as the name suggests, made of fibrous and glandular tissue. They are usually (but not always) painless and often discovered during a self-breast exam or during a routine breast cancer screening. Once a lump is found, an ultrasound and biopsy identify the mass to diagnose and categorize the fibroadenoma. A simple fibroadenoma is 1 to 3 cm in diameter and consists of the same cell structure overall. If it is larger than 5 cm in diameter, it is called a giant fibroadenoma — and if it develops in teenage girls, it is called juvenile fibroadenoma. These types are not associated with an increased risk of developing breast cancer, unlike complex fibroadenoma. The cells of complex fibroadenoma have different features that can multiply faster, which potentially increases the risk of the growth becoming cancerous.
Doctors can remove these lumps by excision, which means surgically cutting them out, or by cryoablation, which is the deep-freezing of the fibroadenoma and the immediate surrounding tissue to destroy it without surgery.
Cryoablation is suitable for women older than 18 years with confirmed fibroadenomas no larger than 4 cm in diameter. It is currently not yet approved for women with a history of breast cancer and cannot be used for pregnant women.
The innovative treatment is minimally-invasive and usually performed as an out-patient procedure requiring only a local anesthetic. Under ultrasound guidance, a needle like cryoprobe is inserted into the breast to inject liquid nitrogen. The liquid nitrogen creates temperatures of -170 degrees Celsius to freeze the tumor. During cycles of freezing and thawing, the tumor perishes. The procedure leaves only a 3 mm scar. The shape of the breast remains unaltered as there is minimal damage to normal breast tissue.
Discomfort after the procedure is usually minimal and can be managed with over-the-counter painkillers like paracetamol
Bumrungrad International Hospital is the first hospital in Thailand to offer cryoablation as an option for breast tumor treatment.

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