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Nuke Your Tumors! Surgeons Use Microwaves to Zap Cancer

DiscoblogBy Boonsri DickinsonFebruary 6, 2009 3:02 AM


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Using microwaves to cook food was sooo yesterday. These days, microwaves can do nearly anything. Scientists are using them to kill off marine life, and police might soon use guns that shoot them to stop fleeing suspects. Now, doctors are trying to use microwaves to save lives—by zapping liver cancer. Due to an increase in hepatitis infections and conditions like cirrhosis, liver cancer has become one of the most common cancers in the world. Normally, patients suffering from liver cancer would have to undergo invasive treatments, ranging from removal of the liver to chemotherapy. It’s often difficult for surgeons to remove bits and pieces of the cancer without removing the whole liver. But not every patient is lucky enough to get a liver transplant when they need one. As a result, doctors in San Diego are tapping into microwave power as a less invasive and more available means of conquering tumors. Microwave ablation works like this: First, the surgeon finds the tumor with an ultrasound or CT scan. Then, after piercing the skin or making an incision through a “laparoscopic port,” the surgeon sticks an antenna into the liver. When the antenna is turned on, it emits microwaves that heat up water molecules in the liver. When the cancer heats up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, the cells essentially boil to death. And like magic, the surgeon has nuked a tumor in just 10 minutes. Of course, the label of coolest manipulation of microwaves so far belongs to a Duke lab, where scientists are using them to build an invisibility cloak. Related Content: Cosmic Variance: Backyard Nukes? DISCOVER: Microwave a Tornado? DISCOVER: Nuke Power is Better DISCOVER: Explosive Cooking With Microwaves

Image: flickr/ Matt & The Camera

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