New Advances Improve Breast Cancer Diagnosis And Treatment

February 1, 2018
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Technology has been advancing by leaps and bounds in recent years and, while that may be exciting for tech companies, it’s even more so for healthcare providers. As new technology is adapted for the diagnosis and treatment of patients, hospitals are providing greater hope to cancer patients. In fact, breast cancer patients now face better survival odds than ever before, thanks to more than a few new advances.

Molecular Breast Imaging

Molecular Breast Imaging, or MBI, has been in use since it was approved by the FDA in 1999 and is primarily used as a type of breast cancer recurrence test. Because scar tissue and cancer cells can sometimes be difficult to distinguish in mammograms, MBI technology was applied to get a more accurate depiction of the patient’s breast. MBI technology is also helpful in confirming a breast cancer diagnosis in high risk patients, where a traditional magnetic resonance imaging tool can’t be used.

For an MBI test, the individual is injected with a small fragment of radioactive material, which is then absorbed by cancer cells. Those cells will then be illuminated, when viewed by a nuclear medicine scanner. Another benefit of the MBI test is that it doesn’t push on the breast, allowing for a fully 3-dimensional view. In getting a clearer picture, doctors can reduce surgery time and remove a more accurate portion of the affected breast tissue.

HER2-Directed Treatments Change the Game for Breast Cancer Patients

HER2 stands for human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 and it’s a protein that encourages the production of cancer cells in the body. Recent advances in gene therapy include treatments that target these proteins, increasing the survival rates of breast cancer patients. While only 1 in 5 breast cancer cases are the result of HER2 overproduction, those cases are significantly impacted by drugs that target the protein.

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HER2-directed therapies have revolutionized the treatment of HER2-positive breast cancer,” says Dr. Wendy Chen, an oncologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. The drugs are available to patients with both early stage and late stage breast cancer. As long as the patient developed their condition as a result of an overproduction of the HER2 protein, these drugs can help the patients recover. Additionally, the risk of recurrence in those patients diagnosed with early stage breast cancer is reduced through these treatments.

New Drugs Could Delay the Need for Chemotherapy

Two new drugs, named palbociclib and ribociclib, may be able to slow the progression of breast cancer for as long as 10 months. This means chemotherapy can be delayed for a significant period, letting patients live their normal lives for longer periods of time. In two-thirds of breast cancer patients, estrogen hormones are responsible for the growth of tumors in the breasts. These drugs target the estrogen receptors to slow down the growth of cancer cells.

Palbociclib is most effective after cancer has begun to spread beyond the breasts, while ribociclib is to be prescribed only to women who have already gone through menopause. Since estrogen production is what caused these types of breast cancer, patients will also have to be administered drugs that block the production of the hormone, while receiving treatment. The new drugs work by inhibiting the functioning of two enzymes, CDK4 and CDK6, which are responsible for cell division. By delaying the advance of breast cancer, some patients may never need chemotherapy, while others may be able to put it off for several years.

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Here are just a few of the recent advances that make the detection and treatment of breast cancer more promising. As with any type of cancer, early detection increases the patient’s survival expectancy and opens up more treatment options. Through early diagnosis and the possibility of delaying treatment with new drug therapies, it may be possible for women to live out the majority of their lives without subjecting themselves to the side effects of chemotherapy. That, in itself, may be enough to give hope to millions of women.