How a drop of ‘nuclear Tipp-Ex’ kills skin tumors as thousands of NHS cancer patients could be saved from painful surgery in new trial
- ‘Radioactive Tipp-Ex’ could save thousands from painful surgeries in new trial
- It is rubbed on cancerous skin melanomas and forms a hard crust within seconds
- UK trial is underway to see if it can help NHS skin cancer patients
A radioactive paste that hardens, such as Tipp-Ex, could save thousands of skin cancer patients from painful surgery.
The liquid is rubbed on cancerous lesions and forms a hard crust in seconds – just like the typewriter correction fluid. Radioactive particles in the paste then destroy cancer cells in the skin.
After treatment, the paste is removed and further therapy is rare.
Now a UK trial is underway to see if the groundbreaking technique could reduce the number of NHS patients requiring surgery for non-melanoma skin cancer.
A radioactive paste that hardens, such as Tipp-Ex, could save thousands of skin cancer patients from painful surgery. File photo of visual examination of the mole for the presence of malignant skin tumors
The liquid remedy is rubbed on cancerous lesions and forms a hard crust in seconds – just like the typewriter correction liquid Tipp-ex (photo)
These are usually caused by overexposure to ultraviolet light from the sun or tanning beds, and affect nearly 150,000 people a year in the UK.
Cases of non-melanoma skin cancer are rarely life-threatening — unlike the more dangerous malignant melanoma — but still kill some 700 people a year.
In about one in 20 cases, they spread elsewhere, requiring chemotherapy.
Doctors usually remove the lesions under local anesthetic, along with some surrounding skin to catch any tumor cells that have spread.
While this can be done by a primary care physician, it can leave a scar, requiring a skin graft to mask the damage. But the new treatment, a type of liquid radiotherapy, could mean patients should avoid surgery.
“This could benefit a huge number of people,” said Dr Nicola Mulholland, a nuclear medicine consultant who leads the UK branch of the international trial at King’s College Hospital in London.
‘Non-melanoma skin cancer is the most common cancer in the UK and rates are rising sharply with the aging of the population.’
Non-melanoma cases of skin cancer are rarely life-threatening – unlike the more dangerous malignant melanoma – but still kill some 700 people a year
In about one in 20 cases, they spread elsewhere, requiring chemotherapy
But non-melanoma forms have a lower profile. The slow-growing lesions begin as a lump or discolored spot. Many patients have them removed by their GP, but the NHS still spends around £150 million a year on severe cases.
Experts hope many of them can be avoided thanks to the new treatment, called rhenium radionuclide therapy.
“It’s a bit like Tipp-Ex: if you paint it on it, it crusts in a few minutes,” says Dr Mulholland. “We leave it on for one to two hours and then remove it … and the patient can go home.”
However, it can cause bleeding, swelling and redness of the skin.
Doctors emphasize that it is unlikely to be suitable for malignant melanomas.
Finola Cronin, 77, from Chislehurst in South East London, was one of the first people in the UK to be treated with the radioactive paste after doctors offered her the chance to have it instead of surgery.
She says: ‘There was no pain or discomfort and all I could feel was the doctor polishing it up. All I had to do was lie still for an hour. It was much better than having to have surgery.’