Doctors have begun treating women suffering from breast cancer in trials of the device, which uses a supercooled needle tip to repeatedly freeze then defrost tumours so that the harmful tissue is damaged and ultimately dies.
The technique, which does not require general anaesthetic and can be completed in about 15 minutes, could provide an alternative to surgery, which often requires women to stay in hospital for up to a week and can leave them with scars.
The needle is cooled to -274F (-170C) by pumping liquid nitrogen through a network of tiny tubes, allowing the surgeon to control the size of ice ball produced to ensure it freezes the entire tumour.
Scientists behind the device say it is possible to treat tumours up to the size of a golf ball. It has already been used on benign tumours and doctors have now begun a trial of the procedure in 30 breast cancer patients.
“The cells in the human body are made mainly of water, which means they freeze,” said Hezi Himmelfarb, the chief executive of IceCure Medical, the Israel-based company that has developed the system.
"Cold has an anaesthetising effect, so the patients feel very little pain during or after the procedure.
“We have developed the system so it can be carried out in a normal doctors’ surgery as it is minimally invasive and relatively quick.”