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Cancer therapy tested

Doctors cautiously optimistic that liquid nitrogen treatment could replace invasive surgeries.

March 18, 2009|By Christopher Cadelago

BURBANK — A Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center surgeon became one of the first doctors in the country Monday to treat early-stage breast cancer patients using a technique that neutralizes tumors by essentially freezing them.

Dr. Deanna Attai began treatment of two Southern California women taking part in the clinical trial that explores the use of noninvasive cryoablation therapy, a technique in which doctors inject liquid nitrogen into the center of a tumor, cooling the tissue to minus 160 degrees Celsius.

“Essentially, we’re killing the cancer cells on the spot,” said Attai, a Burbank-based surgeon who, along with doctors from New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, is participating in the 99-patient trial.

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“We hesitate to use words like ‘groundbreaking’ and ‘landmark,’ and we don’t know where this is going to go. What we think is that it’s going to be very successful.”

Breast cancer forms in tissues of the breast, usually the lobules and ducts. In 2005, 186,467 women were diagnosed with the cancer and 41,116 died, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Pamela Kalmus of Hollywood was diagnosed last month with breast cancer after her annual mammogram.

The 62-year-old vice president of a textile company said her doctor referred her to Attai.

“To be honest with you, I was like a deer in the headlights,” Kalmus said of the diagnosis.

“We have no history of breast cancer. Nobody in my family has it.”

Because the lump in her breast was discovered early, and is smaller than one-and-a-half by two centimeters, Kalmus qualified for the study, which was initiated by the American College of Surgeons Oncology Group and is being funded by the National Cancer Institute.

Doctors, including Attai, have used cryoablation therapy as a method to treat benign breast tumors, or fibroadenomas, for several years.

However, the trial, known officially as “A Phase II Trial Exploring the Success of Cryoablation Therapy in the Treatment of Invasive Breast Carcinoma,” is the first of its kind.

Lori Burrows, who discovered the trial on the Internet and underwent cryoablation therapy Monday, said the entire process took about 35 minutes.

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