Imagine a cancer treatment so simple that it involves inserting a needle into a malignant tumor and destroying it directly. This groundbreaking therapy is known as image-guided cancer ablation, a technique that employs computed tomography (CT) or ultrasound to guide a needle into the tumor. The tumor can then be eradicated by heating it with microwaves or radiofrequency or by freezing it through cryoablation. While it may sound too good to be true, this treatment is a viable option that many patients remain unaware of. We now have the means to freeze or burn tumors without the need for their physical removal.
But why would we consider this option instead of surgically removing tumors? The key lies in the success of immunotherapy, where leaving the destroyed tumor in the body allows the immune system to gather intelligence about the cancer, enabling it to fight the disease more effectively. A powerful combination of cryoablation and immunotherapy is proving highly effective in treating advanced cancers, and it is also being explored for early-stage cancers, such as breast, lung, and liver cancer. Cryoablation is emerging as a potential surgery replacement, offering patients more effective treatment choices with fewer side effects.
When cancer progresses beyond its early stages, it becomes systemic, spreading throughout the body. After surgery removes primary tumors, patients are often told that “we got all of it.” However, this isn’t entirely true. Even with the primary tumor removed, cancer cells can remain and continue to grow, forming new tumors over time. For advanced cancers, when tumors are killed through ablation, the dead cancer cells act as a vaccine, triggering an immune response that attacks foreign bodies, including the remaining cancer cells in the body. Nevertheless, this response doesn’t always occur without the assistance of immunotherapy. Cryoablation, coupled with immunotherapy (AblationVaxTM), offers a chance to treat otherwise nearly hopeless cases of Stage III or IV cancer. It also provides patients with earlier-stage cancers an alternative to toxic chemotherapy and radiation, underlining how this combination optimizes the body’s immune system, similar to vaccines.
The medical community’s adoption of these ablation techniques, however, has been slow. There’s resistance due to insurance coverage, reluctance to try new treatments, and a lack of necessary skills among oncologists. Overcoming this reluctance will require oncologists to learn and embrace these procedures. As with any paradigm shift, it will take time for this transformation in cancer treatment to be widely adopted. But as we’ve seen in the history of medicine, change is inevitable. The focus should always be on curing the patient rather than preserving the future of any specific medical specialty. It’s high time for this shift, as we move towards a future where robots and artificial intelligence may well take over these roles.
In the current profit-oriented medical system, oncologists may have little incentive to recommend cryoablation immunotherapy (AblationVaxTM) to their patients, leaving many with advanced-stage cancer unaware of these breakthrough treatments. Despite early success with cryoablation and immunotherapy, there was initially a focus on treating early-stage patients, and a reduction in tumor bulk of 50% to 70% was considered successful. This was often contrasted with the standards for chemotherapy, where similar results would be seen as a triumph. While a paradigm shift is underway, change is never easy. However, as oncologists adapt and embrace these techniques, a brighter future for cancer treatment is on the horizon.
Reference: Jason R. Williams, 15 Oct 2019, The Immunotherapy Revolution: The Best New Hope For Saving Cancer Patients’ Lives, https://williamscancerinstitute.com/the-immunotherapy-revolution