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High-power sound waves used to heat-treat cancer pain

A new clinical trial is testing whether high-frequency sound waves can be used to reduce pain for patients with bone tumours. 

02 November 2015

Professor Gail ter Haar and Professor Nandita DeSouza

Patients whose cancers have spread to the bone can experience intense bone pain. Researchers at The Royal Marsden and The Institute of Cancer Research in Sutton are conducting a pioneering clinical trial to test whether focusing high-frequency sound waves onto the surface of bone where cancer has spread can significantly reduce pain. The treatment produces heat to destroy the nerve tissue in the bone around the tumour causing the pain, while leaving adjacent areas unharmed.

Nine patients have already been treated in the clinical trial, with encouraging reductions in the pain they were experiencing from bone tumours.

The technique, known as high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU), is coupled with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) guidance to identify, target and track treatment in real time.  

If the HIFU study proves successful for pain control, it could lead to further studies at The ICR and The Royal Marsden to thermally destroy local tumours at an earlier stage of the disease, possibly helping to extend life.

The trial is led by Professor Gail ter Haar, Professor of Therapeutic Ultrasound at the ICR and Professor Nandita DeSouza, Professor of Translational Imaging at the ICR and Consultant Radiologist at The Royal Marsden.

Professor DeSouza said: “HIFU could provide a non-invasive way of controlling pain for these patients where radiotherapy is no longer an option, or where other treatments have been unable to control the disease.”

The trial is part of a wider initiative between The Royal Marsden, the ICR, the Focused Ultrasound Foundation and Philips, the developer of the HIFU system.

Find out more

For more information about this or any other news story, contact The Royal Marsden Press Office.

If you have pain from cancer which has spread to the bone and you are interested in taking part in this trial but you are not a Royal Marsden patient, you will need to speak to your GP or oncologist in the first instance and ask about being referred to The Royal Marsden.