The shock that comes from a diagnosis of cancer is one that stems from the knowledge that there is no definitive cure for it yet. Whatever treatment is advised by the doctor, one thing is for sure, that the disease and its treatment will take a toll on your body.
Cancer treatments comprise a dynamic arrangement of methods and practices such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy, tumour surgery, and — in some cases– hormonal therapy, all to inhibit cancer cell growth.
But all these treatments have one thing in common– the after-effects.
Nausea and vomiting characterise chemotherapy, tumour surgery comes with its own risks, and hormonal therapy can even cause hormonal imbalance.
One of the types of treatment – Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA) – is a successful treatment for a particular type of cancer. The RFA uses radiofrequency to generate alternating current to denature proteins in a tumour. This causes localised cell death– necrosis – in the tumour, eventually ceasing cancer cell growth.
What sounds technical here, in real time, is painful and gruesome.
The RFA consists of an array of needles sitting inside a hollow syringe. When the plunger of the syringe is pressed, the needles are pushed out and sear through the cells, sort of like a hook. These needles are then made to conduct radio waves which will constantly vibrate the molecules in the cell, releasing heat in turn.
The heat is literally used to “cook” a tumour as its cells burn. The burnt cells will die, and later be reabsorbed by the body.
This procedure has some serious side-effects to the body. For example, when used for breast cancer, the soft cells around the tissues suffer a degree of burns. It is painful and leaves behind burn marks. The pains are so incessant that the treatment weakens the patient not only physically, but also mentally, causing depression.
But now, scientists at IIT Ropar have developed a novel method of RFA that reduces skin burns considerably. This could mean that patients suffer less trauma from the treatment, hence keeping them psychologically well.
The method uses convective cooling, where the motion of the liquid helps disperse heat. In this new method, the RFA is applied in a controlled manner and by using convection, the heat is distributed evenly.
Researchers used a heterogeneous three-dimensional model of a breast that has been constructed based on the anatomical details available in the literature. A spherical tumour of 1.5 cm was embedded in the model to represent an in-situ tumour in its early stage.
With observations like temperature and thermal conductivity noted down, the procedure was started. The results measured the time it took for cell necrosis to occur.
Though the time it took to “cook” the tumour saw a slight increase, from 11.67 minutes to a maximum of 18 minutes, the procedure saw less heat in surrounding areas of a tumour when compared to traditional RAF.
Dr Ramjee Repaka, Associate Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering, IIT Ropar, who headed the study, told The Sunday Standard, “Skin burn is a major issue during RF heating of tumour, located close to the breast surface. Quantification of the requirement of convective cooling during RF heating can circumvent the skin burns effectively.”
Though the procedure has some limitations, such as being used on only single tumours, the method could mean that it can be used for tumours in other organs like kidney and liver as well.
Kudos to the team for developing a painless medical treatment for cancer patients.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)