Cancer patients at a Birmingham hospital have become the first in the Midlands to have tumours 'melted' using radio-wave technology.
A team of oncologists, radiologists, thoracic surgeons and urologists at Heartlands Hospital, in Bordesely, are using a new 'pin-hole' procedure to treat localised cancer in the kidney, liver and lung.
Led by consultant radiolo-gist Dr Shuvro RoyChoudhury, selected patients are being offered radio frequency ablation (RFA) as an alternative to surgery on tumours up to 5cm wide.
During the operation, which is done under a local anaesthetic, a probe is passed
through the skin into the tumour where a group of spindles open out, attaching itself to the cancerous tissue.
It is connected to a radio frequency generator, which heats up the spindles to temperatures in excess of 60?C (140?F) - the point at which cancerous cells die - but it does not damage healthy tissue as it cools down as it is removed.
The operation, which cost the Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust between £1,500 and £2,500 each, is more than £2,000 cheaper than traditional, open surgery.
Dr Roy-Choudhury, who began using RFA at Heartlands in July 2005, explained it is not only cost-effective but also cuts the risk of infection and the cancer returning.
He said: "Although this has been procedure has been carried out widely across Europe, particularly in Italy, but it's still relatively new development in this country.
"We've been offering it to patients who have small localised tumours but are unsuitable for surgery or do not want invasive treatment.
"This pin-hole procedure avoids the need for a big operation, reducing the risk of infection and return of disease. If we combined radiotherapy with this we could achieve even better results than with radiotherapy alone.
"While this is not a cheap option, it is certainly cost effective, and the trust have been very supportive of my team's work to get this service up and running."
At present radio frequency ablation is only offered as an alternative to surgery to older patients, because the long-term effects are still not proven, although most patients have had recovered well.
RFA may be used to target small primary or secondary cancers, and can also be combined with radiotherapy or chemotherapy.
Its other potential applications include treatment of bone and breast cancer, varicose veins, and even snoring.
Dr Roy-Choudhury added: "At the moment we've used this technique to treat cancers in the kidneys, liver or lungs, and in future I can see it being used on breast and prostate cancer patients.
"Also when cancer has spread to the bones, which can be very painful, RFA can offer pain relief, and so can be used in palliative care as well. Because the treatment is so effective, as we've seen so far, it means patients don't need to spend as long in hospital.
"While this can give hope to some patients who have been told that their cancer is inoperable due to lack of fitness, cases must be carefully selected because it is not a panacea for all cancer patients."