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Focused ultrasound offers new hope in the treatment of tumors
The treatment of malignant liver cell and inoperable pancreatic tumors and benign uterine tumors with high-intensity focused ultrasound could significantly improve the therapeutic prospects of those affected in the future, reports the German Society for Ultrasound in Medicine (DEGUM). The Federal Joint Committee (G-BA) also recognized the potential and has now started an evaluation process for the ultrasound treatment of uterine fibroids and liver tumors.
DEGUM expressly welcomes the assessment procedure initiated by the G-BA, but also calls for the recognition of other useful areas of application for high-intensity focused ultrasound, such as symptomatic pancreatic cancer. With the focused ultrasound, the treatment of the tumor types mentioned can be significantly improved in the future, according to the announcement of the German Society for Ultrasound in Medicine.
Difference to diagnostic ultrasound
In contrast to diagnostic ultrasound, high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) generates much higher energies that can be focused on a few millimeter large parts of the body. The ultrasound head bundles the high-energy sound waves, which enables therapeutic use. "The high-intensity focused ultrasound creates temperatures of up to 80 degrees, which can effectively kill tumor cells," explains DEGUM expert Professor Dr. med. Holger Strunk from the Radiological University Clinic Bonn.
G-BA assessment procedure
The assessment by the G-BA is a prerequisite for the inclusion of new treatment methods in the health insurance benefits catalog. The costs for a treatment with the highly focused ultrasound are only covered after the evaluation process for the respective area of application has been completed. This could soon be the case with uterine fibroids and liver tumors. However, the "G-BA unfortunately sees only two of the proposed areas of application for ultrasound-controlled, high-intensity focused ultrasound (USg-HIFU) as promising," says DEGUM expert Professor Strunk.
Promising new therapy procedure
"The high-intensity focused ultrasound is a promising procedure with which these types of tumors can be treated without any surgery," explains Professor Strunk, senior physician at the Radiological University Clinic in Bonn. According to the expert, the method has proven to be safe, effective and practicable in clinical use in many clinical studies, mainly from the East Asian region. In Germany, however, the procedure had only been available since 2014, which is why there is currently still a lack of study knowledge. "We urgently need more financial support for further, German or European studies on the method," said Prof. Strunk.
Non-invasive treatment for tumors
A key advantage of focused ultrasound, according to the expert, is that, in contrast to a surgical procedure, which is usually performed, for example, in the treatment of benign uterine tumors, no incision is necessary. Neither probes, needles or instruments would be introduced into the body. According to Professor Strunk, the physicians "according to the current state of knowledge assume that the surrounding tissue is protected by this ultrasound procedure, so that it can also be used when there is a desire to have children." In the case of non-operable liver cell tumors, the method offers the advantage that it can be used even then can, "if the tumor is directly adjacent to larger vessels - because they are not injured," says Strunk.
Can it also be used for pancreatic cancer?
The DEGUM expert regrets that the G-BA saw no potential for other areas of application of focused ultrasound, although the new method is also useful, for example, for symptomatic pancreatic cancer. Studies have shown that "patients treated in this way had an improved quality of life and also a potentially longer lifespan." (Fp)