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Hope Is Around the Corner

Three new technologies show a promising future for the fight against breast cancer.

More than 200,000 U.S. women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year. Advances in imaging and cancer treatment during the last few decades have significantly increased survivorship, but the battle continues. These three developing tools may beckon a breakthrough in breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Just a Poke to Predict Your Risk

Researchers at University College London may have found an easier way to detect changes in gene function that increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer. Published earlier this year in the journal Genome Medicine, the study performed blood tests on women with and without BRCA1 mutations who did not have breast cancer. Women from both groups who went on to develop breast cancer had similar changes in their gene function caused by a process called DNA methylation. By detecting the effects of this process, researchers were able to predict breast cancer risk years before diagnosis, even among women without the BRCA1 gene mutation. This blood test could potentially be used as a complement to genetic testing to build a more robust breast cancer risk profile for women.

3D Mammography: The New Gold Standard?

A group of researchers from around the country performed a study comparing 3D mammography (tomosynthesis) with traditional digital mammography and discovered some unique benefits. Results of their study of more than 450,000 breast scans revealed 3D mammograms detected more cancers and led to fewer follow-up tests than digital mammograms. 3D mammography is a form of breast imaging that takes several X-ray images and combines them to form a three-dimensional picture of the breast. While it uses more radiation than other forms of mammography, this latest study—which is published in June 2014 in the Journal of the American Medical Association—suggest its benefits may outweigh its risks enough to warrant more widespread use.

Breast Cancer Prevention—Rub It In

A gel form of a cancer-preventing pill may work as well as the pill, according to a research team at Northwestern University in Chicago. For the study, 26 women with a form of precancer known as ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) applied tamoxifen gel to their skin. Within six to 10 weeks, researchers found the gel affected a gene linked with the development of breast cancer to nearly the same degree as oral tamoxifen. However, the women had lower amounts of the drug in their blood than those who take the pill, which theoretically reduced their risk of developing blood clots and uterine cancer. The researchers say that if the same results hold true in a larger clinical trial, it could cause tamoxifen gel to permanently replace the pill form.

A Pill That Prevents Cancer?

Tamoxifen is one of two drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the prevention of breast cancer in high-risk women. The drug is primarily used to prevent recurrent breast cancers. A 2013 study found women with the BRCA1 gene mutation who had developed cancer in one breast had a 62 percent lower risk of developing cancer in the other breast when they took tamoxifen, and women with the BRCA2 gene mutation were even less likely to develop a second cancer.

Speak with your primary care provider to see if tamoxifen is right for you. According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, women ages 35 and older who carry a BRCA gene mutation may benefit from taking tamoxifen for five years, whether or not they’ve had previous breast cancer.

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