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Published on April 15, 2016

Microwaves for healingMicrowaves for healing

It’s a powerful one-two punch to battle lung cancer.

A new minimally-invasive procedure using microwave technology to heat and destroy tiny lesions before they grow into life-threatening tumors, is offering some patients an alternative to surgery.

Coupled with the use of low-dose CT scans to detect early lung tumors in heavy smokers, the new technique, called Microwave Ablation, is offering a new way to save lives.

“We suspect that potentially thousands of lung cancer patients on Cape Cod can benefit from this combination of detection and treatment,” said Salvatore Viscomi, MD, chairman of radiology at Cape Cod Hospital, who also practices at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston.

“It changes the game entirely,” he emphasized. “Once detected, many of these small lesions are amendable to this minimally-invasive procedure, rather than the alternative of having part of a lung removed, particularly in patients who are not good surgical candidates due to poor cardiopulmonary function, advanced age, or many co morbidities.”

The microwave ablation technique, which was recently introduced at Cape Cod Hospital, is done by transmitting electromagnetic waves and creating thermal energy, which destroys solid tumors. The advantages, according to Dr. Viscomi, include:

  • Available for nonsurgical candidates
  • Less pain
  • Less time
  • Faster recovery
  • Smaller incisions
  • Less anesthesia

While Dr. Viscomi anticipates that microwave ablation will be used more frequently for lung lesions, it also will prove valuable for early kidney, liver and bone tumors.

“Microwave ablation has been available at some Boston hospitals, but now we have the equipment and expertise to treat patients suffering from these four categories of tumors right here on Cape Cod,” he said. “It offers an alternative to invasive surgery, especially for older and sicker patients, whose frailer health makes invasive surgery particularly risky.”

During a microwave ablation procedure, interventional radiologists Philip J. Dombrowski, MD and John G Santilli, MD use a CT scanner to precisely locate a tumor. They then direct a specialized probe precisely into the center of the mass. Microwaves are then sent through this probe, heating the tumor.

Studies have shown that tumor cells can be killed if they are brought to a temperature of 113 degrees Fahrenheit.

For some patients, microwave ablation will result in the elimination of the entire tumor, especially in the case of smaller lesions, Dr. Viscomi said.

“The idea is to ablate and make sure the lesion doesn’t spread elsewhere.”

That’s why lung screening is so critical, he emphasized.

As many as 10,000 to 15,000 heavy smokers on Cape Cod may qualify for the low-dose CT screening, which is reimbursed by Medicare and most other insurance policies. Those who qualify are smokers between the ages of 55-77 with a 30 pack-year history (i.e. one pack per day for 30 years or two packs per day for 15 years).

Dr. Viscomi noted that microwave ablation is proving more effective than another non-invasive procedure called radio-frequency ablation because of its ability to cause a larger and faster volume of heating with an application. It also has advantages for treating multiple tumors simultaneously.

“It’s cutting-edge technology, and can be done in many patients with only conscious sedation instead of general anesthesia.

Dr. Viscomi is leading an effort to continue to expand the latest imaging and interventional radiology technologies and treatments available at Cape Cod Healthcare.

“We are offering almost everything available in Boston, and in some cases, some imaging studies not available even at the large academic institutions,” he said.