Zapping Cancer Pain Away

Bone pain in cancer can be relieved by ultrasound waves that heat and destroy the tumor

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Living pain free can make a big difference for cancer patients, especially when the cancer has spread to sensitive areas such as the bone.  

According to a new study, a second line of treatment is effective and safe for cancer patients with pain related to bone metastases (cancer that has spread to the bone).

Results of this study suggest that focused ultrasound ablation therapy can lead to pain relief and better quality of life for patients unable to receive radiation therapy. 

"Ask your oncologist about pain relief options."

This clinical trial was conducted by Mark Hurwitz, MD, Director of Thermal Oncology for the Department of Radiation Oncology at Jefferson University and colleagues.

The objective of the trial was to assess how well a technology known as magnetic resonance image-guided focused ultrasound (MRIgFU) ablation therapy (brand name ExAblate) treats pain due to bone metastases.

ExAblate uses ultrasound waves to heat the bone and destroy the cancerous tissue.

Surgeons can visualize the surrounding tissues using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) during the ExAblate procedure. This prevents damage to surrounding normal tissue as well as critical structures such as nerves and blood vessels.

ExAblate has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in cases where radiation therapy does not work or cannot be performed.

The study enrolled 142 patients who could not be treated with or hadn’t responded to radiation therapy. The patients were randomly assigned to two groups: 107 patients received ExAblate and 35 patients received a placebo, or in other words a sham treatment.

The degree of pain before and following the procedure was measured using questionnaire-based scales.

Three months later, 67 percent of the patients treated with ExAblate therapy reported significant improvement in pain as compared to 21 percent of the patients in the placebo group. The ExAblate group also reported significantly better quality of life due to the reduced pain.

The ExAblate therapy was well tolerated by patients. Overall, the study found good rates of pain relief and improvement in quality of life for patients with bone metastases-related pain.

"Pain is a common, often debilitating symptom of the spread of cancer to bones. We are pleased to now have a second therapy that can improve a patient's enjoyment of life," said Dr. Hurwitz.

Many cancers spread to the bones, Dr. Hurwitz noted, and a large number of patients live for years with such metastases, which can seriously affect patient's quality of life.

One limitation of the study was that it was not blind. This means that the researchers knew which patients were receiving the ExAblate therapy and which patients were receiving the placebo. In this study, the patients on placebo who did not experience much relief in pain were permitted to get ExAblate therapy.

The results of the study were presented at the annual meeting of The American Society of Clinical Oncology in June 2013. All findings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

The study was funded by Insightec Ltd., the company that developed the ExAblate technology. No other conflicts of interest were reported by the authors.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 4, 2013
Last Updated:
August 7, 2013