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‘Essentially freezing the tumor to death’: Legacy Health brings innovative breast cancer treatment to Oregon

Cryoablation treatments have been used in other parts of the world for years, but now it’s available for local breast cancer patients through Legacy Health.

PORTLAND, Ore. — An exciting new treatment is available to women fighting breast cancer. Legacy Health is the first health system in Oregon to offer cryoablation: an ultra-fast, effective, non-invasive procedure to treat certain types of breast cancer.  

While 2020 has been tough for all of us, Elisabeth Estes said she is counting her blessings.

“I was just so blessed with the whole process and it just feels really good and we’re just, we’re happy,” she said.

The grandmother of three from Boring, Oregon, is healthy after a breast cancer diagnosis just over a year ago.

“I got the phone call, diagnosis, from my gynecologist,” Estes said. “It was pretty serious, and I cried, but I got referred to a wonderful doctor.”

That doctor is dedicated breast surgical oncologist Cynthia Aks at Legacy Health. She introduced Estes to a new, non-invasive treatment called cryoablation.

“It’s exciting because it’s a non-surgical approach to treating breast cancer as an alternative to a lumpectomy,” Aks said.

Legacy Health is the first health system in Oregon to offer the new procedure. Aks had used the treatment in private practice when she worked in another state and knew she needed to bring it to the Pacific Northwest.

The technique involves exposing a tumor to extreme cold to freeze it from the inside out, causing diseased cells to die off. They are then absorbed by the immune system over time.

“I’m essentially freezing the tumor to death,” Aks said.

After the breast is numbed, Dr. Aks guides a hollow probe into the center of the lesion. The probe is connected to a liquid nitrogen machine. Then, the liquid nitrogen is sent through the probe to extremely cold temperatures which completely freezes and kills the cancer cells, according to Aks.

“What I’m most excited about is that the idea that this freezing, it disrupts the tumor cells and then fragments of the DNA seem to stimulate our immune systems to develop antibodies,” Aks said. “So, it’s kind of like an auto vaccine effect concept.”  

Estes was the ideal candidate for cryoablation: a menopausal woman who has a small-sized tumor without any obvious lymphoid advancement.

“This is alike an alternative that we wish we had way back when,” Estes said. “And now that it’s available, everybody needs to know about it.”

Aks also sees the potential to use this procedure on women with metastatic breast cancer.

“That stimulating effect of the immune system might help their body fight the disease with the other treatments they have, usually with medication treatments; whether that’s chemotherapy, might make their chemo treatment more effective and more robust,” Aks said.

While the treatment is new to the Pacific Northwest, it has been used in other parts of the world on other parts of the body for years, according to Aks. It offers breast cancer patients a faster recovery, better cosmetic results and less risk.  

“I was in the right place at the right time and the right doctor. And so now, I wish that for everyone who has a diagnosis of breast cancer,” Estes said.

Learn more about cryoablation breast cancer treatment on Legacy Health's website.

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