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Imaging Technology May Relieve Cancer Pain

by Lynn Shapiro, Writer | November 07, 2008
Promising research at
Methodist Hospital in Houston
Physicians at The Methodist Hospital in Houston are studying ways to use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and ultrasound to relieve some of the most intense pain resulting from cancer that has spread to the bones.

"Bone metastases are one of the most common causes of pain for cancer patients," said Dr. King Li, chair of the department of radiology at The Methodist Hospital and principal investigator for the trial. "Unfortunately, current treatments to relieve this intense pain are very limited."

Current painkilling or palliative treatment includes invasive surgery that many late-stage cancer patients cannot tolerate, radiation that damages more tissue than necessary, or nerve ablation. In this study, MRI technology is used to visualize the patient's anatomy and then aims focused ultrasound waves at the targeted tissue, using low-level heat to ablate, or destroy it, reducing or eliminating the pain.

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This new method of using MRI-focused ultrasound may provide a completely non-invasive way to relieve pain, Li said. In earlier clinical studies performed in Europe, the majority of patients reported pain relief within days of treatment.

"This is an important trial because 90 percent of patients with a progressive form of breast cancer have bone metastases and almost all patients with metastatic prostate cancer have tumors that spread to the bones," Li said.

The MRI allows the physician to monitor and continuously adjust the treatment in real time. Due to inherent structural characteristics of the bone tissue, it is possible to use a low level of heat and achieve the desired effect, while minimizing damage to adjacent tissue.

The FDA approved this technology, magnetic resonance-guided focused ultrasound (MRgFUS), to treat uterine fibroids in 2004. This same technology has shown promising efficacy and safety results in pain palliation feasibility studies in patients who have in bone metastases and the researchers hope to confirm those results though this larger investigational trial.

For more information about The Methodist Hospital, see http://www.methodisthealth.com.