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Radio Waves, Not Surgical Knives

The possibility of developing a treatment for a serious illness that does not involve surgery is always good news. For some patients with liver cancer, a new minimally invasive treatment is showing promise. Dr. Dave Hnida of CBS station KCNC in Denver has more for CBS News This Morning.

The surgical removal of tumors from the liver is difficult and risky, and treatments like chemotherapy and radiation can have debilitating side effects. Now, a promising new experimental treatment uses a catheter and radio wave energy to destroy tumors without major surgery.

Agnes Lubbers is on her feet and doing well, despite her ongoing battle with liver cancer. Because she is 78 years old and has a very large tumor, surgery and chemotherapy won't work. So, her doctors sent her to Riverside Hospital in Columbus for a new and different type of treatment.

There, doctors use a probe to target her tumor with the heat from radio waves. Doctors are able to pinpoint their progress with the help of an ultrasound machine.

Dr. Alain Drooz explains, "We're hoping that we can shrink away and destroy most of the tumor, perhaps 80 to 90 percent, and allow her body to recover, and try to give her some more time."

Patients are awake throughout the treatment. Side effects are a feeling of warmth and in some cases, a little pain.

For now, the treatment is only being studied in people like Agnes Lubbers who have hard-to-treat tumors. But the hope is that the treatment could someday be effective in less severe cases.

Dr. Drooz says, "I think the potential of this type of procedure is limitless in that at some point we may be treating more and more patients by leaving the tumor in the body."

Agnes says she recovers quickly from her therapy.

"I recuperate in the recovery room for a little while and then I go home. I'm very worn out when I go home but in a matter of days I can feel my energy coming back day by day."

She knows that her treatment is not a cure, but it has given her a chance to enjoy more of her days in comfort. "Oh my! Just so many benefits," she says. "I'm not just sitting there waiting for the end to come."

Right now, the radiotherapy treatment is offered only to participants in a clinical trial for whom surgery and other treatment is not an option. But if the success of the treatment continues, we could see it as a first line of defense for liver cancer and other kinds of cancer as well.

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