Sassoon joins research team in search of freezing cure for cervical cancer

Feb 26, 2013, 02:52 IST | Anup Satphale

The state-run tertiary Sassoon hospital is jointly participating with John Hopkins University in path-breaking research to treat patients in precancerous stages of the disease.

The research will be beneficial to evolve a treatment for cervical cancer. The unique treatment involves cryotherapy wherein liquid nitrogen is used to chill a cervix to minus-50 degree Celsius to combat and destroy any abnormal cells.

The treatment will help to check the disease and eradicate necessity to remove the uterus after cancer. The procedure has already been used on 22 women at Sassoon hospital, and doctors are monitoring them to ascertain whether it has been successful.

A doctor at the Gynaecological Department claimed that this is the only cancer that is also caused by sexually transmitted diseases (STD) through a virus called the Human Papillomavirus (HPV).  “Cervix cancer is the most common cancer that affects Indian women, and this number is on the rise. It is because the women are hesitant and do not go for check ups, as it involves examining the genitals,” said Dr Ramesh Bhosale, HOD of Gynaecology Department in BJ Medical College, who is also heading team for the research. 

Bhosale added that normal cells take time to be converted to cancerous cells. While the change in happening, abnormal cells begin to grow, which is an early sign of cancer.  “This is known as pre-cancer changes. A Papanicolaou test or PAP smear during this time helps to detect presence of those abnormal cells,” Bhosale said.  During research, the team confirms the presence of abnormal cells with Colposcopy, which is a microscopic examination of the cervix to confirm presence of abnormal cells. “We can use various chemicals like Acetic acid (3%), which highlights abnormal cells and helps to detect it immediately. 

After pinpointing the area where abnormal cells are growing, a biopsy is carried out, which involves surgically taking a small part of the affected area for a histopathology test. Decision to proceed further is taken after presence of abnormal cells is confirmed,” Bhosale said.
Two procedures are employed with the main focus to arrest transformation of a normal into a cancer cell. “Though the first procedure involves establishing where abnormal cell are forming, we are focusing on Cryotherapy. The procedure involves exposing the cervix to an extreme cold temperature of around minus 50 degree Celsius, which damages or freezes abnormal cells,” Bhosale said.

He added that the treatments does not harm normal cells, as only the abnormal cell area is subjected to freezing with the use of a probe, through which liquid nitrogen is released.  Bhosale said that treatment is given for three minutes with a five-minute gap. Patients for the research are counselled and only after they give their consent, are they treated with the procedure. This research is being carried out worldwide at various centres and the project aims to cover 900 women globally. Patients would be required to follow up regularly for two years so that the research team can check whether abnormal cells have been eradicated. 

The project is being conducted at the National AIDS Research Institute, Bhosari.  

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