A technique that uses microwaves to destroy liver tumours, based on technology pioneered by scientists from the University of Bath, has treated more than 100 patients in the UK and is now being used worldwide.
Most patients with liver cancer are deemed inoperable but with the development of this microwave equipment, thousands of patients could be offered curative treatment.
Around the world, one million people a year die of primary liver cancer, with a further million dying from secondary liver cancer where the cancer has spread from other tumour sites.
The technology resulted from ongoing research at the University of Bath into the use of microwaves in medical therapy, starting with Microwave Enometrial Ablation, a treatment for women with heavy menstrual periods.
This research has led to the development and production of a microwave generator and probe to treat cancer tumours, now being manufactured by Acculis Ltd, UK.
Mr David M Lloyd, a consultant surgeon with University Hospitals Leicester NHS Trust and Honorary Senior Lecturer at the University of Leicester, in collaboration with Professor Nigel Cronin and Dr Peter Clegg at the University of Bath, has now used the technique to treat more than 100 patients with liver cancer.
More than a third of the patients treated are still alive after three years and some have been pronounced cured and discharged.
Mr Lloyd explained: “The technique will have a significant effect on liver cancers because we are operating on people who have been declared inoperable.
“Someone with cirrhosis of the liver can’t be operated on in a conventional way to remove a tumour, but we can place a microwave probe by keyhole methods or through the skin to destroy these tumours.”
Professor Nigel Cronin said: “The team here in Bath has been delighted to work with Mr Lloyd to create the tools needed for his pioneering surgery, and also to work with Acculis on the development of what should be a very successful commercial product.”
The microwave technique is quick and produces cancer cell death with very few side effects, since only tissue in the immediate field of the microwave energy is destroyed, and not in other parts of the body.
This is in contrast to other methods, such as radio-frequency, where the electric current has to have an exit point from the body with the risk of burning at that site.
Mr Lloyd explained: “Microwaves don’t cause collateral damage elsewhere in the body. They only heat up the tissue at the end of the probe and no energy is sent through the body.
“We can now treat very large tumours within a few minutes, making it suitable for someone who may have multiple tumours, which by other techniques, might take several hours to treat.”