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New Non-Invasive Imaging Method May Improve Breast Cancer Treatment

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Could this novel imaging technique for breast cancer treatment be as accurate as the current standard of care?

Researchers have shown in a study, published in the journal Theranostics, that this new method based on whole-body PET/CT imaging not only promises more optimal treatment of patients but also reduces the need for invasive tissue sampling.

"The new method might substitute invasive tissue sampling in the near future," said Uppsala University and study author Jens Sörensen in an official release.

Simpler, Non-Invasive Imaging

The study, which recruited 16 women with ongoing metastatic breast cancer treatment, targeted a simpler and non-invasive imaging method, comparing image analysis results to invasive technique. Metastatic cancer is one that has spread to other parts of the body.

Twelve of the subjects were diagnosed with a HER2-positive primary tumor, while four were HER2-negative.

HER2, which stands for human epidermal growth factor receptor type 2, is a growth factor measured to decide the right breast cancer treatment. HER2-targeted treatments, while costly, are deemed life-saving. Targeted treatment modes will not be effective if the metastasis does not express this growth factor.

At present, diagnosing elevated HER2 in metastatic cancers is done through examining tissue samples from invasive procedures such as surgery or biopsy.

After the patients were scanned through PET/CT imaging, the results revealed that the amount of HER2 expression was accurately captured. The amount of expression in the metastasis, too, was often detected to be different from the primary tumor, which can help better design the breast cancer therapy.

"Our study resulted in two patients starting therapy and one patient ending therapy with HER2-targeting drugs," said Sörensen, whose team now plans to jumpstart a larger study involving more hospitals.

Breast Cancer Testing

A separate research highlighted ultrasound imaging as similar in performance as mammography in detecting breast cancer.

Ultrasound's detection rate is comparable to mammograms or the standard for breast cancer testing, according to the findings published Dec. 28 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. False positives, however, were higher using the former than the latter.

Some experts are pessimistic that these findings will change current practices in breast cancer screening. The implication of doing ultrasound in addition to mammogram, said Dr. Lusi Tumyan of the City of Hope Cancer Center in California, is that more cancers will be spotted for women without breast cancer but with dense breasts.

Ultrasound is typically recommended as a follow-up once a mammogram or physical examination detects a potential breast tumor.

Screening Guidelines

The American Cancer Society recommends annual mammograms for women ages 45 to 54. Once women reach age 55, they are advised to continue annual screening or seek it every two years.

MRIs are additional tools recommended for those with a family history of cancer as well as other risk factors.

Around one in eight women in the United States, translating to 12 percent, will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. Breast cancer remains the second leading reason for death among women.

Photo: Ed Uthman | Flickr

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