Breast cancer may soon be treated without invasive surgery, according to a new study. Researchers at Sapienza University in Rome have discovered that focused ultrasound guided by magnetic resonance (MR) can be used to heat and destroy cancerous tissue. The findings illuminate new outpatient methods of treating the disease, which currently claims upwards of 40,000 U.S. lives each year.

The study, which was presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA), shows that MR-guided focused ultrasound (MRgFUS) represents a safe, noninvasive way of performing so-called cancer ablation — the gradual removal of tumor tissue. Once implemented into current oncology protocols, the therapy method could permit much shorter recovery times as well as more precise measurements. "In the treatment stage, we are able to precisely visualize where the energy is having an effect and to measure exactly the rise in temperature," study author Alessandro Napoli said in a press release." Temperature monitoring is particularly important, since too low a temperature is ineffective and too high a temperature may be dangerous."

To test the new technique, Napoli and his colleagues enrolled 12 patients with invasive ductal breast cancer in an experiment. After using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to confirm the presence and treatable location of cancerous lesions, the researchers put each patient through one session of MRgFUS treatment. The results were then examined in post-surgery pathology.

According to the researchers, subsequent analysis showed no residual disease in 10 of the subjects. None of the patients experienced any significant complications during or after the procedure. "This procedure allows for safe ablation of breast cancer," Napoli said. "At pathology, no significant viable tumor was found in the specimens from these 10 patients."

The current research effort is the latest in a series of inquiries into new efficient, non-invasive cancer therapies. In another study published last month, a team of oncologists at the MD Anderson Proton Cancer Therapy Center described the success of their groundbreaking proton treatment, which uses subatomic particles to deliver cytotoxic radiation with unprecedented precision.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), breast cancer is currently the second most deadly cancer among women, affecting over 200,000 and killing 40,000 each year. It is estimated that one in every eight women will develop the disease at some point in their life. While the cause remains unknown, risk factors include early puberty, late menopause, and certain genes. Lifestyle factors like calorie intake and alcohol consumption have also been implicated in higher risk for diagnosis.