A ground-breaking new cancer treatment, High Intensity Focused Ultrasound, (HIFU) is now available for private patients. Unlike most cancer treatments HIFU involves no surgery, has negligible side effects and requires no lengthy hospital stay.
For many years low intensity ultrasound has been used for imaging and it has been known that high power, high intensity ultrasound can affect human cells, but despite various attempts to harness this to treat cancer none have been successful.
But now the challenge of how to kill cancer cells without harming the healthy ones has been mastered. HIFU works by focussing the ultrasound in such a way that the energy level is only sufficient to harm cells at the focal point. The cancer is looked at with a high quality but low power ultrasound scanner giving the doctor a continuous view of the tumour during treatment. This high power ultrasound beam is focused on a point within the tumour to heat the cancer cells to a temperature where they die.
A Consultant Surgeon at the Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals NHS Trust, a world-leading healthcare and medical training institution, said: “HIFU is a very exciting new technology that may lead to the rewriting of text books on cancer treatments in the future”.
Oxford is leading the Western World in the introduction of HIFU treatments for cancer and the team have been using HIFU to treat cancer for some time using the new “HAIFU Model JC” from Ultrasound Therapeutics Limited. The Oxford team have initially concentrated on cancers in the kidneys and liver but treatments in the Far East where over 8,000 patients have successfully been treated for a variety of tumours affecting the pancreas, bone and soft tissue shows that treatment of other cancers is also possible.
HIFU is a safe, reliable, versatile means of treatment with minimal side effects and because it is a non-invasive treatment there is no external scarring and consequently less recovery time. The cancers are killed without the need for radiotherapy or chemotherapy, though these are recommended for affected areas that cannot be treated with HIFU.
John Madden had a tumour removed from his right kidney with HIFU. In 2004 Mr Madden’s consultant told him that if he had the cancer removed by surgery he would be on dialysis for the rest of his life. He decided to be treated with HIFU instead: “The procedure was really simple and since my operation eighteen months ago my MRI scans have shown that the tumour is no longer a problem and I’m enjoying a dialysis-free lifestyle.”
A general anaesthetic is used during treatment to ensure that the patient remains still and one night in hospital is required. Occasionally some tablet pain relief is needed afterwards and sometimes an effect similar to sunburn is experienced, but this soon disappears. For patients with a localised cancer, HIFU may be all the treatment they need, in other cases it may form part of a series of treatments.
HIFU is not currently funded by the NHS, but having received CE approval, HIFU can be used to treat private patients.
Ultrasound Therapeutics Ltd manufactures and markets ultrasound-based equipment for therapeutic applications and are currently carrying out clinical trials on new cancer therapies at the Churchill Hospital, Oxford with HAIFU equipment.
A reader informs us that a similar treatment is available via Britain’s National Health Service. Although not “spoken about too loudly”, Thermal Ablation or Radio Frequency Ablation is reported to have succesfully treated some cancerous growths in the early stages.