Machine Design

New use for radar: Killing breast cancer

Radar research originally intended to detect space missiles from Massachusetts Institute of Technology looks promising as a breast-cancer treatment.

To kill cancer, microwave energy focuses on a tumor while negating any energy that may potentially overheat surrounding healthy tissue.

According to researchers, women with early stage breast cancer who received this treatment prior to lumpectomy had a 43% reduction in the incidence rate of cancer cells found close to surgical margins. This is significant because women with cancer cells close to the edges of surgical margins are subjected to additional surgery and/or radiation.

Microwave energy is delivered to tumors prior to lumpectomy. Treating cancer with heat is not new, but researchers were having trouble using it to treat tumors deep in the body, says Alan Fenn, senior staff member at MIT Lincoln Laboratory and inventor of the technique. Also, it's difficult to deliver heat only to cancer cells and not overheat healthy tissue.

The microwaves in the new method “heat, and kill, cells containing high amounts of water,” says Fenn. Apparently, cancer cells have an 80% water content while healthy breast tissue has much less. The outpatient procedure uses a single tiny needle probe to sense and measure parameters during treatment.

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