A pioneering new cancer treatment for inoperable tumours in the lungs, kidney, liver, breast, prostate or pancreas is now available at the Princess Grace Hospital in London. The first procedure of its kind in the UK, utilising Nanoknife on a lung tumour, was carried out at the hospital.
The technique called NanoKnife destroys soft tissue tumours with an electric current, minimising the risk of damage to nearby organs or blood vessels.
Over the last 20 years, patients with inoperable cancers have been given radiofrequency ablation therapy which heats up the tumour and literally ‘cooks’ it until the cancer cells die.
However, this treatment has its limitations and is not suitable for patients with tumours near major blood vessels.
NanoKnife circumvents these problems by using a 3,000 volt electric current rather than heat to destroy the cancer.
It requires no cuts or incisions. Two disposable fine needles are simply guided through the skin by ultrasound or CT scans to the tumour and then a strong electric current is passed through it for two minutes.
The entire procedure – administering the anaesthetic, guiding the needles in, carrying out the actual treatment and removing the needles – takes around 45 minutes, and is performed under general anaesthetic.
Dr Edward Lean, an interventional radiologist who is carrying out the procedure at the Princess Grace Hospital, London, explains: “This new technology offers the most difficult to treat cancer patients who are not suitable for conventional therapies, an option which could potentially prolong their survival and with good quality of life.
“Instead of killing a tumour by heating it up, a high voltage electric current is passed through it instead.
“This targets the tumour at cell level, perforating the cell membrane and making tiny holes in the cell through which the contents of the cell leaks out and dies.
“Healthy tissue such as blood vessels, organ lining or the bowel wall is not affected.
“By perforating the cells, it also potentially allows chemotherapy – generally administered after the operation – to work more effectively on the cancer cells.”
After having NanoKnife, patients are monitored in hospital overnight and are generally allowed to go home the next day. There are no major side-effects.
For most patients with advanced cancer, the procedure will be followed up by a course of chemotherapy.