A phase III clinical trial detailed in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (JNCI) has found that noninvasive magnetic resonance guided focused ultrasound (MRgFUS) treatments can alleviate pain and improve function for cancer patients. Though the treatment has been used successfully for women with uterine fibroids, this study is the first to evaluate its efficacy for cancer patients.

The study’s principal investigator and lead author was Mark Hurwitz, MD, vice chairman of quality, safety and performance excellence and director of thermal oncology in the department of radiation oncology at Thomas Jefferson University.

Radiation therapy is commonly used to treat bone-related pain, but it may not provide relief for all patients. In addition, some patients exceed the maximum safe dose before the treatment is effective.

In the study, 147 patients from 17 centers throughout the United States, Canada, Israel, Italy, and Russia were divided into two groups. One set of patients received targeted therapy, while the other was enrolled in a placebo treatment. The first group received focused ultrasound that heated their tumors to 65 to 85°C, destroying the tissue. Patients were monitored via magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to ensure that surrounding tissue remained at a safe temperature. Patients in the placebo program who did not respond to treatment within 2 weeks were unblended and allowed to join the (MRgFUS) program.

The study found that 64% of patients experienced no pain or a significant reduction at 3 months following the procedure, with some reporting pain relief within several days of treatment. Many patients were able to reduce or stop use of opiod medications following the treatment.

“It’s clear that for many of these patients, pain has a major impact on their everyday lives,” said Hurwitz. “This approach offers a new way to help alleviate that pain via an out-patient non-invasive procedure.”

For more information, visit the JNCI.