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  • Posted April 3, 2024

Microwave Treatment Could Be an Advance Against Thyroid Tumors

Microwaves could offer an alternative to surgery for some people with thyroid cancer, a new study suggests.

Microwave ablation, which uses heat to destroy tumors, more effectively targeted thyroid cancers on multiple parts of the gland than surgery did, researchers report April 2 in the journal Radiology.

Microwave therapy had similar progression-free survival rates compared to surgery, which involves removing all or part of the thyroid, results show. It was also less invasive and caused fewer side effects than surgery, researchers added.

“These findings challenge traditional treatment paradigms and open new avenues for less invasive management strategies,” said senior study author Ming-An Yu, director of interventional medicine at China-Japan Friendship Hospital in Beijing.

For the study, researchers treated nearly 700 patients with early-stage papillary thyroid carcinoma (PTC), which is the most common type of thyroid cancer.

As much as 60% of the time, PTC occurs with tumors cropping up in two or more different places within the thyroid gland.

Those cases often are treated with surgery, but removing part or all of the gland can impact a patient's quality of life, researchers said. They might wind up taking thyroid hormone replacement for the rest of their lives, or suffering side effects like permanent hoarseness.

The research team used microwave therapy to precisely target the tumors in 229 patients with thyroid cancer, and then compared their outcomes to 453 patients who underwent surgery.

Five-year progression-free survival rates (meaning the tumor did not recur or grow during that time) were 77% among those who underwent microwave ablation, compared to 83% for those who received surgery, results showed.

However, the microwave procedure was more likely to preserve a person's thyroid function, so that they wouldn't need to take lifetime hormone replacement, researchers said.

Further, microwave therapy resulted in less blood loss, shorter incision length and shorter times both during the procedure and while recuperating in the hospital, results show.

Only surgery caused permanent hoarseness or low thyroid levels in patients, researchers added.

“Microwave ablation is associated with fewer complications and can preserve thyroid function, thereby enhancing patients' quality of life,” Yu said. “This represents a significant advancement in the field of interventional thyroid cancer treatment.”

Yu noted that the microwave therapy does not include treatment of the lymph nodes. In surgery, lymph node removal to prevent cancer recurrence is common practice.

But even without treating the lymph nodes, patients had comparable survival rates to surgery, Yu noted.

More information

The American Cancer Society has more on thyroid cancer.

SOURCE: Radiological Society of North America, news release, April 2, 2024

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