Two New Approaches for Early Detection and Prognosis

Guest post from Annabell Oh, PhD, Scientific Grants Manager, and David Mankoff, MD, PhD, Professor of Radiology, Chief, Nuclear Medicine & Clinical Molecular Imaging University of Pennsylvania

If you visit the doctor’s office today for a regular breast health exam, you’d be given a clinical breast examination and, if over 40, have a mammogram to “see” what can’t be felt. Widespread use of these methods, together with significant advances in treatment options have helped to save lives and increase quality of life for patients. However, in 5-10 years, will your doctor be using the same methods? This year, Komen is investing in technology aimed at supplementing or replacing today’s methods with improved and more accurate means of early detection. Researchers from around the world assembled this past March in Dallas to review applications submitted on the topic of Prevention and Early Detection. As a result, Komen is funding two new research projects that propose to improve early detection and prognosis that could change your future annual breast exam.

Dr. Andrew Maidment

The first grant, led by Dr. Andrew Maidment from the University of Pennsylvania, hopes to reduce the likelihood of a call back visit to your doctor due to a false positive or inconclusive result. One reason patients may get a call back visit is if calcifications or calcium deposits are present in your breast since it appears similar to a tumor on film or digital image. The ability to distinguish calcium deposits from an actual tumor would be a significant step towards more accurate screening. Dr. Maidment’s proposal will accomplish this by further refinement of an emerging imaging technology, called Digital Breast Tomosynthesis (DBT). DBT can create a 3D image of the breast and has previously been shown to offer more comfort to the patient compared to conventional mammography. The advantages aside, today’s DBT technology cannot tell the difference between a tumor and calcifications. Dr. Maidment plans to create innovations that will help to improve DBT’s limitations and image all types of breasts – even with those with multiple calcium deposits.

From left to right: Dr. Britta Weigelt, Dr. Jorge Reis-Filho (co-PI), Dr. Tari King and Dr. James Hicks (PI).

Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) is a non-invasive form of breast cancer that is still contained in the breast and has not spread. Although DCIS is non-invasive, it could turn into invasive cancer over time. Currently, doctors lack the ability to determine if DCIS will ultimately progress to invasive disease. The investigative team led by Drs. James Hicks and Jorge Reis-Filho, from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, hope to uncover the key to DCIS’s evolution into invasive cancer. Drs. Hicks and Reis-Filho’s study will approach this question by using rare patient samples with DCIS and invasive breast cancer that lay side-by-side in the same area of the breast. The researchers will then uncover any genetic changes that occurred between the DCIS mass and invasive cancer using cutting-edge DNA sequencing technology. If successful, the study will produce prognostic markers that will help doctors choose between a conservative or aggressive treatment approach to DCIS.

It is Komen’s hope that by developing cutting-edge imaging technologies, finding new prognostic markers, and supporting innovative scientists today, it will translate to improving tomorrow’s methods for early detection and widen available treatment approaches.

About the author

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Susan G. Komen has written 278 articles for Susan G. Komen® | Blog

Nancy G. Brinker promised her dying sister, Susan G. Komen, she would do everything in her power to end breast cancer forever. In 1982, that promise became Susan G. Komen and launched the global breast cancer movement. Today, Komen is the world’s largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists fighting to save lives, empower people, ensure quality care for all and energize science to find the cures. Thanks to events like the Komen Race for the Cure®, we have invested more than $1.9 billion to fulfill our promise, becoming the largest source of nonprofit funds dedicated to the fight against breast cancer in the world.