Mumbai: The Tata Memorial Hospital study on cheap local anaesthetic lidocaine could provide an answer to one of the perennial debates of cancer treatment: surgery induces the formation of new metastatic disease. “We have shown that by giving a local anaesthesia at the tumour, we are stopping the cancer cells from communicating. We are in a way putting them to sleep and thereby reducing the chance of metastasis,” said director Dr Rajendra Badwe.
After presenting the study in Paris on the advantages of injecting lidocaine in and around a breast tumour just before the operation, he said: “This is globally the first study looking at an intervention just before surgery and it has shown that one in three deaths can be avoided.” Surgeons from the US and Europe came up to him after his presentation and remarked about the study’s “simplicity” and the “magnitude of benefits”, he added.
His team member, Dr Sudeep Gupta, the director of ACTREC in Kharghar, said the 7-8-minute intervention with the cheap injection has shown increased cure and survival rates, more than some of the expensive medications.
The lidocaine experiment has its roots over a decade ago when Badwe noticed a big difference in the motility (movement) of cells during surgery. On Monday, he said biopsies done mid-way through surgery always revealed hundreds of genes unlike in biopsies done before and after the surgery. Using the analogy of a physical attack, he said the gene expression signifying movement was the heaviest during surgery.
The randomised study looked at the outcomes of 1,600 surgeries done on women with stage I, II and early III breast cancer. “With such results, we plan to make the use of lidocaine a part of the standard procedure in all Tata Memorial hospitals across the country,” said Badwe.
Breast cancer is among the most common cancers in India, affecting roughly 1.5 lakh women every year. “Roughly 90,000 to 1 lakh of these women are eligible for surgery as they have come in early stages,” said Gupta. Badwe said if the lidocaine injection intervention is implemented around the world, it could save over a lakh lives annually.
The Tata team plans to study the use of similar agents, including cannabis, for different types of cancer.