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Upstate introduces new technology in the fight against liver cancer

Upstate University Hospital has introduced a new weapon in the fight against liver cancer that promises greater success, less time in the operating room and quicker recovery for patients.

The microwave ablation system is a minimally invasive surgery option that uses electromagnetic waves to destroy cancerous tumors. It may be used in addition to chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

Radiologist Katsuhiro Kobayashi, MD, says the Ethicon NeuWave equipment was purchased thanks to a grant from the Upstate Foundation. He appreciates that it can be used to ablate lesions—abnormalities—in a variety of shapes and sizes, and he finds it more precise than radiofrequency ablation, another method of destroying cancer with heat.

Eileen Pezzi, vice president for development at Upstate, noted, “The Upstate Foundation is proud to fund this state-of-the-art equipment that offers better treatment options for many of our patients.”

Microwave ablation is an option for cancers in organs that contain a high percentage of water, such as the liver and kidneys. It can also be used on bone lesions.

Here’s how it works.

The patient is sedated or anesthetized during the procedures, so he or she is not bothered by the burning sensation.

Kobayashi inserts a probe through the skin and into the tumor, periodically consulting medical images to make sure his trajectory is correct. Once the probe is in place, images confirm that it is in precisely the best location.

Depending on the shape of the tumor, the tip of the probe emits either a circular or elongated sphere of microwaves, whose widths are controlled by the amount of time the machine is activated. When microwaves force them to oscillate — move back and forth — water molecules within the tissue create heat, which disintegrates the cancer cells. Those dead cells are gradually replaced by scar tissue that shrinks over time.

Microwaves are not impeded by blood vessels, and their heat dissipates much less than it does from radiofrequency waves. It’s generally quicker and more accurate.

The ablation takes a few minutes. Afterward, Kobayashi examines three-dimensional images that look like ink drawings to see the area of destruction. “I think we got it all,” he says.

To guard against any remaining cancer cells spreading along the probe track as the doctor retracts the probe, the machine cauterizes the area on the way out.

He says microwave ablation is a good option for many patients, especially those who might have difficulty with traditional surgery.

Caption: From left, radiologist Katsuhiro Kobayashi, MD, David Feiglin, MD, chair of Radiology, and Eileen Pezzi, Upstate vice president for development, with the microwave ablation system that is now in use at Upstate University Hospital.

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