Freezing tumor instead of cutting, Israelis pioneer new bladder cancer approach

Tumors removed from 4 patients using Co2 at Rambam Hospital in Haifa; doctors monitoring to check method keeps cancer away; if it does, process heralds great advantages, they say

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

New Israeli-developed sprays freezing agent on cancerous cells in the bladder (screen shot from Vessi Medical)
New Israeli-developed sprays freezing agent on cancerous cells in the bladder (screen shot from Vessi Medical)

Claiming a world first, Israeli doctors have removed cancer tumors from the bladder by freezing them instead of cutting them out.

Doctors at the Rambam Healthcare Campus in Haifa say that the method has great potential to reduce bleeding, infection risk and pain.

They have conducted the operation four times, and all patients were discharged without side effects. Over the coming weeks, they will be monitored to see how effectively the operations banished cancer, and several more patients will receive the surgery.

“Here we are actually spraying liquid Co2 instead of cutting out the tumor, a process that causes scarring of healthy tissue,” said Dr. Isaac Hoffman, who operated with his colleague Prof. Gilad Amiel. “We are very happy that we succeeded in freezing the tumor, after which the cancerous cells die off without them needing us to cut them out.”

With current methods, bladder cancer patients are often prone to recurrence, but Hoffman said he expects freeze therapy to more effectively remove cancer cells and reduce the chance of recurrence.

He noted that cryotherapy, the use of extreme cold to freeze and remove abnormal tissue, isn’t new and is used on various cancers. But until now doctors haven’t been able to use it on bladder cancer, which affects more than 2 million people worldwide, because of the nature of the tumors.

Illustration of ice forming between cancer cells after an Israeli-developed tech sprays freezing agent (screen shot from Vessi Medical)

“Normally, the tumors are frozen by injecting the freezing agent using needles, but this can’t happen with bladder cancer,” said Hoffman.

An Israeli company, Vessi Medical, developed the process to adapt cryotherapy for bladder cancer, which hinges on the use of a specially developed spray to administer the freezing agent.

After it is sprayed, ice forms between and inside the cancer cells, without harming the bladder muscles.

Hoffman commented: “We believe there are advantages to the patient. After cutting you normally have to leave a catheter in, which can cause pain and risk of urinary tract infection. So we are reducing this.”

The innovation will lead to patients spending less time in hospital, Hoffman predicted. “We visualize the tumor and treat it with a freeze,” he said. “The aim is to release the patient from the hospital on the same day as the procedure.”

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