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Non-Surgical Lung Cancer Treatment Combination Extends Life - Inoperable Non-Small Cell Tumors Can Be Treated With Heat

July 17th 2006

Non-Surgical Lung Cancer Treatment Combination Extends Life - Inoperable Small Cell Tumors Can Be Treated With Heat

Thermal Ablation

Researchers have found that 57% of lung cancer patients that undergo thermal ablation survived three years, which is two years longer than the average life expectancy.  The candidates selected for the thermal (heat) treatment were not surgical candidates according to the oncology team which consisted of a pulmonologist, medical oncologist, radiation oncologist and thoracic surgeon.

The treatment involves guiding a needle through the skin into the tumor.  Energy is then applied to the tip of the needle to “cook” and kill the tumor.  The surgeons say the tumors is killed with heat or they can “freeze” it with cold.

The purpose of the study was to assess the clinical outcomes of patients with early-stage non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).  The thermal ablation (ablation means removal of unwanted tissue) was combined with radiotherapy.  They found that this combination therapy may result in an improved survival over other treatments alone.


Damian Dupuy MD says “Only one-third of patients diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer are eligible for surgery – the rest face the reality of having less than 12 months to live.  These new outpatient treatments not only are effective, but allow us to treat patients who historically have no other options. Utilizing imaging and targeted thermal ablation, we can heat and destroy lung tumors, and extend a patients life. As a physician, it’s so gratifying to be able to provide a treatment that is so beneficial to patients and so easy for them to undergo.”  Dupuy is the study author and a doctor at the Rhode Island Hospital.

In this study, the two types of thermal ablation used were radiofrequency and microwave.  The thermal ablation involves heat.  The microwave ablation utilizes electromagnetic microwaves to agitate the water molecules in the tumor and surrounding tissue.  The agitation causes the heat.


All of the patients in the study were terminal, with a life expectancy of one year or less.  Twenty-seven of the patients who underwent thermal ablation subsequently received external-beam radiation, the primary treatment in patients who are considered poor operative candidates. Fourteen patients underwent thermal ablation followed by interstitial brachytherapy, which is radiation therapy given internally to the tumor with a catheter. Of the 41 patients, 97.6% survived to six months, 86.8% to one year, 70.4% to two years and 57.1% to three years. The median follow-up was 19.5 months with an average survival of 42.2 months. The patients with tumors smaller than 3 cm (n=17) had the best outcomes, with an average survival of 44.4 months.

There are some benefits to this procedure, according to the researchers.  It is minimally invasive and much easier on the patent than systemic therapies. This can be performed on an outpatient basis, and patients can begin normal activities within a few days. The authors say that “In a small number of cases, RFA can extend patients’ lives, but it is generally palliative.”  Palliative means either pain-killing or soothing. 

The research appears in the July issue of the Journal of Vascular and Interventional Radiology (JVIR).   More information can be found at

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Dan Wilson
Best Syndication

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