Friday, October 13, 2006

Ultrasound Successful in Thyroid Nodule Trial

(HealthDay News) -- A new technology designed to remove growths from the thyroid gland with high-intensity focused ultrasound beams has passed its first test in humans, French researchers report.
The hope is that the treatment will eliminate the need for surgery that often is performed to remove the growths, formally called nodules, said Dr. Oliver Esnault, an endocrine surgeon at Saint-Louis Hospital in Paris and a leader of the trial.
But the technology is in its early stages, Esnault said. "We just treated 25 patients with this technology," he said. "It may take three or four years to be sure the technology is convenient to patients, and we are not certain yet that we will be able to use it routinely."
Thyroid nodules are fairly common. Many go unnoticed, and only 5 percent are cancerous. But since the thyroid sits at the base of the neck, some nodules can grow large enough to interfere with breathing. And overproduction of thyroid hormones by some nodules can cause symptoms such as unexpected weight loss and abnormal heartbeats.
The 25 people in the trial were designated for surgery to remove their enlarged thyroids, which had multiple nodules. Surgery was, in fact, performed two weeks after their nodules were exposed to the high-intensity focused ultrasound. The main object of the study was to determine how patients reacted to the treatment, Esnault said. A single nodule was targeted in each patient.
Three patients were frightened enough that their treatment was stopped, he reported, but it was "well tolerated in all other patients." Skin blisters were seen in seven participants, which led to a slight redesign of the ultrasound equipment.
When the highest level of focused ultrasound was used, 70 percent of the nodular tissue was destroyed, Esnault said. "This study confirmed the feasibility and safety of the high-intensity focused ultrasound procedure," he concluded.
Esnault presented the findings Thursday at the American Thyroid Association annual meeting, in Phoenix.
The research is being financed by INSERM, the French equivalent of the U.S. National Institutes of Health. INSERM designed the prototype equipment, and "we have an industrial partner involved in the project," Esnault said. "They are building a series of prototypes."
Esnault and his colleagues have begun two new studies designed to determine which patients are the best candidates for the ultrasound treatment. One study, for example, includes people whose nodules produce excessive amounts of thyroid hormone.
Dr. Gregory Brent is secretary of the American Thyroid Association. "The [study] results look good, but it is obviously a small study," he said. "But with this kind of result, it gives you confidence that you can try non-surgical treatments for thyroid nodules. This is certainly a very important study, showing that ultrasound can shrink nodules without damaging surrounding tissue."
Ultrasound treatment probably will be usable for a subset of people with thyroid nodules, Brent said, and "right now it is hard for anyone to know how large that subset will be."
More information
You can learn more about thyroid nodules from the American Thyroid Association.

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