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UC San Diego Medical Center burning path to fight cancer

UC San Diego Medical Center experts are using innovative, minimally invasive technologies to tackle two hard-to-treat cancers: liver and esophageal cancer.

Using two similar, minimally invasive technologies -- advanced microwave ablation and radio frequency ablation -- UC San Diego physician-researchers are blazing a trail to beat these cancerous threats. Treating the liver

Microwave technology is a new treatment option for liver cancer, estimated to cause more than 18,000 deaths a year. The technique works to remove the tumor using intense heat, an option available at UC San Diego Medical Center and Moores UCSD Cancer Center -- the only hospitals in the region to offer this technology.

"Simply put, we zap and destroy liver tumors with heat derived from microwave energy," said Marquis Hart, M.D., transplant surgeon at UC San Diego Medical Center. "This is an important alternative, especially since the majority of liver cancers cannot be partially removed and not all patients are transplant candidates."

After locating the tumor using ultrasound or CTS, the tumor is pierced with a thin antenna that emits microwaves. The resultant microwave energy spins the water molecules in the tumor, producing friction, which causes heat in excess of 140 degrees Fahrenheit. This causes cellular death, usually within 10 minutes.

In addition to liver disease, microwave ablation has promising potential in the treatment of lung, kidney and bone cancer.

Treating the esophagus

More than 60 million Americans suffer from an advanced heartburn, which if not properly treated can lead to cancer of the esophagus. That, and other causes of esophagal cancer, will lead to the deaths of more than 14,000 Americans this year.

UC San Diego was the first to perform radiofrequency ablation to treat Barrett's esophagus -- a chronic build-up of abnormal cells in the lining of the esophagus -- as well as pre-cancerous and cancerous lesions.

"For patients with precancerous lesions, using radiofrequency ablation allows us to save the esophagus and save the patient from undergoing a radical surgery to remove the esophagus," said Thomas Savides, M.D., clinical service chief for the Division of Gastroenterology and professor of clinical medicine at UC San Diego School of Medicine.

Using a device called the HALO, physicians insert a balloon into the esophagus, expand and heat the balloon at the affected area and destroy the bad cells. The precancerous and cancerous areas are literally burned away, allowing healthy tissue to grow back. The entire procedure takes about 20 minutes.

Recent studies in the New England Journal of Medicine show that using radiofrequency ablation is highly effective for complete eradication of Barrett's esophagus, and for reducing the risk of progression to cancer in patients with Barrett's from19 percent to just 2.4 percent.

"In the future," Savides added, "we may be able to use this type of procedure to treat colon polyps and never have to worry about the situation turning into cancer."

For more information about these and other innovative techniques being used at UC San Diego Medical Center to treat cancer, visit www.health.ucsd.edu.

Submitted by UC San Diego Medical Center

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