Breast cancer is one of the most prevalent forms of cancer in the world, but it seems that researchers have finally found a way to put the freeze on this disease. A team of researchers comprising of undergraduate students have developed a reusable cryotherapy device that can help to treat breast cancer in rural South Africa.

With the aim of improving access to breast cancer diagnostics and treatment in South Africa, the team of student-researchers successfully created a prototype for an inexpensive cryotherapy probe that uses locally available resources. The probe was also designed such that it could be sterilised and reused, making it an affordable potential breast cancer treatment option for the rural poor in South Africa.

Cryotherapy treatment in cancer

Cryotherapy is an established but uncommon treatment option for breast cancer. It involves inserting a probe through the skin to the tumour site to deliver liquid nitrogen or gas to cancer cells, freezing and killing them with extreme cold.

Elaborating more on the process of cryotherapy in treating cancer, Nicholas Durr, the director of undergraduate programmes for the Johns Hopkins Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design, said: “Because the cold has a numbing effect, you don’t need anaesthesia, and because you can do it through a small needle, it’s not a surgical procedure.”

This may sound simple, but the reality is that cryotherapy is an expensive process that is inaccessible to the rural poor. Presently, cryotherapy probes used for cancer treatment are disposable and priced at $2,000 each. The cryotherapy technology also employs the use of rare gases such as helium and argon, which are difficult to find in South Africa.

If the team’s prototype proves effective, it could certainly light the path towards easy and affordable breast cancer treatments for patients in South Africa as well as the rest of the world.

The prevalence of breast cancer

Breast cancer is a leading cause of cancer across the globe. In 2012 alone, there were nearly 1.7 million new cases of breast cancer worldwide. It is also one of the most common causes of cancer death.

Even in Singapore, breast cancer accounts for over 25% of all cancers diagnosed in female patients. According to the National Cancer Centre Singapore, roughly 1,900 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year.

And it seems that more new cases of breast cancer continue to emerge each year. The number of women getting breast cancer in Singapore has nearly tripled in the past 40 years, said Dr Chan Ching Wan, a consultant at the National University Cancer Institute Singapore’s surgical oncology division.

Other diagnosis and treatment options for breast cancer

Thankfully, more diagnosis and treatment methods have been made possible, due to rigorous medical studies in the field of cancer research.

For instance, researchers have now identified a way to find out which tumour type is guilty of metastasis by using an epigenetic test known as EPICUP, making it possible for doctors to deliver more targeted cancer treatment to patients.

At the same time, researchers in Singapore have also been attaining breakthroughs in the field by growing lab cancerous tumours. These lab tumours will enable scientists to study cancer cells outside of a patient’s body, providing them with a more effective way to examine the responses of cancer cells towards different types of treatments.

In addition, a new drug known as palbociclib has also made its way to the shelves, enabling doctors to delay the worsening of breast cancer in their patients. When administered early to patients diagnosed with advanced breast cancer, palbociclib is expected to extend their lives up to an additional 10 months without worsening the cancer. MIMS


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