Ambulances voor het ziekenhuis van Monza, bij Milaan. © E. Kieckens

Papillary microcarcinoma is a form of thyroid cancer in which the tumor is smaller than one centimeter in diameter. Operative surgery is possible, but not the preferred option considering how surgical treatment always has the chance that it might affect other organs. Moreover, thyroid surgery requires an incision in the neck. Patients prefer not to have that from an aesthetic point of view.

An extremely thin needle is inserted in order to use thermal energy to target the tumor

The trial carried out by researchers at, among others, the State University of Milan and the European Institute of Oncology (IEO), also in Milan, Italy, aimed treating this type of cancer in a less invasive way was therefore more than welcome.

European premiere

The researchers had a group of 13 patients undergo treatment with radiofrequency or laser ablation or thermal ablation. That is, the tumor is heated in such a way that it dies. A special and extremely thin needle is inserted into the tumor under the guidance of ultrasound and under local anaesthesia. The tumor is targeted with thermal energy while the surrounding healthy tissue is preserved.

“In the patients treated with thermal ablation,” says Giovanni Mauri, a university researcher who works in the Interventional Radiology Department of the IEO, “we have managed to totally remove the tumor without any complications. The procedure is so precise that the function of the thyroid gland remains completely intact.”The treatment took place in the outpatient clinic. Mauri adds that no patient had to undergo therapy for hormone replacement after the procedure.

Fourth pillar of cancer treatment

Thermal ablation has long been used to treat various types of tumors (liver, kidney, lung), but its applications on the neck are a very recent development.

The European Institute of Oncology is a pioneer in Italy in the field of interventional radiology, and saw the creation of a dedicated department in 2015. This new discipline is considered the fourth pillar in the fight against cancer. The other three are oncological surgery, medical oncology and radiotherapy.

The results of the treatment were published in an article in the scholarly open source journal Frontiers in Endocrinology.

Read more about innovation in cancer treatments here.

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About the author

Author profile picture Ewout Kieckens is a Dutch journalist in Rome who writes about Italian lifestyle and culture. He has written books on diverse subjects such as the Vatican and Italian design. He is very interested in innovations, especially Italian contribution to progress.