Zapping Breast Cancer

A new high-tech 3-D imaging technique for the treatment of breast cancer offers a promising alternative to traditional surgery. CBS News Correspondent John Roberts reports.

Sylvia Faulk is scheduled to have a mastectomy to treat her breast cancer. But before she has that operation, she's volunteered for a groundbreaking experiment at the University of Arkansas.

It's an experiment that may prevent other women from going through the same trauma.

"The perfect surgery is a treatment that would eliminate the cancer totally and yet have no deformity," says Dr. Steven Harms of the University of Arkansas.

Radiologist Dr. Steven Harms is pioneering a new treatment called laser ablation that, for many women, could eliminate the need for traditional surgery.

"We would place a needle into that tumor and through that needle, we would apply laser heat, which we could watch destroy the tumor on MRI,"says Harms.

Enhanced MRI,

magnetic resonance imaging, is key to the procedure. It gives doctors remarkable 3 dimensional views of the breast so they can tell exactly where the boundaries of the tumor are.

"You can clearly see the tumor in the midst of the breast tissue," says Harms.

Allowing them to precisely guide the laser's energy to the exact spot necessary to eradicate the cancer.

"It was effective in every case. We were able to not only identify accurately the size of the treatment zone, but we also confirmed that all of the cells in the treatment zone were effectively destroyed," says Harms.

The laser shows the most promise in replacing lumpectomy surgery to remove a single tumor. But surgeon Suzanne Klimberg says, it might also be used to destroy multiple tumors in the breast which now require mastectomy.

"This is the thing of the future and this will probably, hopefully, put us out of a job," says Klimberg.

Right now, the laser is only being tested in women who will go on to surgery. But doctors are just about ready to try it as a stand-alone treatment. If the results they've seen in these early experiments hold up, laser lumpectomy could replace traditional surgery, and, maybe even some mastectomies within five years.

Reported By John Roberts