Killing cervical cancer

BACKGROUND: According to the American Cancer Society, about 11,000 new cases of cervical cancer will be diagnosed in the United States in 2008. Nearly 4,000 women will die from cervical cancer in 2008. Until 1955, cervical cancer was one of the most common causes of cancer death for women in the US. But in 1955, the Pap test came into use to catch cervical cancer early and thus, the number of cervical cancer deaths significantly declined.

TREATMENT: Radiation, chemotherapy and/or various surgeries can be used to treat cervical cancer once it is diagnosed. Now, a new advancement in cervical cancer could make radiation treatment easier, safer and more effective at killing the tumor.

INTERNAL RADIATION: One way to kill cervical cancer is to deliver radiation inside the vagina, directly at the cancerous site. The standard tool that's been used to do this is a cumbersome, metal, hard-to-handle device that is inserted in the vagina and left in for about three days to deliver the radiation. Aaron Wolfson, M.D., from the University of Miami, said, "It causes great discomfort and even pain to the patients and it's also difficult to use." Among the problems, Dr. Wolfson said, is that the device can be inserted improperly, it could fall out and a high radiation dose can't be delivered with it.

A BETTER APPROACH: Because the standard device to deliver radiation internally has so many disadvantages, Dr. Wolfson set out to design a device that is user-friendly and more effective. He has developed a simple plastic cylinder about seven to 10 inches long to use as a conduit for radiation sources. After the device, called Gynocyte, is inserted, small radiation pellets are guided into the device where they're held into place. The device stays in place for two to three days, delivering radiation to the patient. Dr. Wolfson said, "It allows us to give a very intense amount of radiation to the tumor with little damage to the nearby and normal tissues. You can give enough dose to cure the cancer, without harming the patient."

Dr. Wolfson says the new device is much easier to use and gives a more accurate dose of radiation. It's safer and requires very little, if any, pain medication for the patient. The old device has a success rate of about 60 to 70 percent. Clinical trials have shown the newer, upgraded Gynocyte has a success rate of about 90 percent.

Gynocyte has been undergoing research and clinical trials for several years. Now, it's finally ready for prime time. The company Bionucleonics has exclusive rights to manufacture and distribute Gynocyte. They are currently in the final phases of launching the device.

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