Some cancerous tumours are too difficult or too dangerous to access using traditional surgery without damaging other major organs or blood vessels.
The pioneering NanoKnife procedure is being used in a number of hospitals around the world on cancer patients who have run out of other treatment options.
Though it is not a cure, doctors claim this minimally invasive form of surgery may be the only lifeline available to patients suffering from soft tissue sarcoma like pancreatic cancer.
“Between the two needles there’s a very high voltage being applied – up to 3000 volts – and when you apply such a huge voltage, what happens is it destabilises the cells, the cell membrane, and it creates nano holes inside the cell membrane, so it is literally creating holes inside the lining covering the cells,” says Doctor Edward Leen, who is pioneering the treatment on prostate cancer patients at The Princess Grace Hospital in London.
The electrical pulses are contained between the electrodes, minimizing damage to surrounding healthy cell tissue, blood vessels and other important structures.
“With these holes appearing in the cell membrane what happens is that the cell basically just like commits suicide. They die because, it’s a bit like, you know if you have multiple holes in your skin, all your fluid will just leak out, this is the same kind of scenario,” says Dr Leen.
Professor Leen says early results are under study: “The data we have shows we can control the disease, but it’s certainly not a cure and it is, certainly in the case of the pancreas, it would certainly be advised to be used in combination with chemotherapy.”
While the NanoKnife treatment has the potential to prolong survival and improve quality of life, its precise target zone means it is not suitable for patients whose cancer has spread or for those suffering from heart problems.