Long before a woman feels an ominous lump in her breast, Victoria Seewaldt, M.D., can test her for subtle signs that breast cancer may be brewing in a few errant cells amidst thousands of healthy ones. Never before has such a possibility existed, and Seewaldt is brimming with excitement.
Victoria L. Seewaldt, M.D.
PHOTO CREDIT: Duke University Medical Center
"This is potentially the breast pap smear that we never had before," said Seewaldt, a scientist and breast oncologist at the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center. "Just as we do with a cervical pap smear, we can now survey cells from the whole breast, examine them under the microscope and test for early changes that often precede breast cancer. Then we can give women a preventive agent to see if we can eradicate her abnormal cells and thus prevent cancer from developing."
The new test, developed at University of Kansas Medical Center and refined at the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center, will be undergoing clinical trials at three centers nationwide. It is far more sensitive than a mammogram because a pathologist analyzes each cell for specific molecular changes that are common to many breast cancers, said Seewaldt, director of Dukes new Breast Health Clinic. It is especially useful for detecting changes in dense breasts, which are typically quite difficult to image using mammography.
Seewaldt likens the process to a relay race. If one first runner doesnt connect with the next runner, the entire loop is broken.
"Weve always known that vitamins are important in the prevention of cancer, but here is a clear-cut example at the cellular level demonstrating that normal amounts of fresh vegetables -- leafy greens, carrots, sweet potatoes -- may be very important in preventing breast cancer."
Seewaldt said the ultimate goal of the clinical trial and its associated research is to identify which cellular changes progress to become cancer, and which cellular changes are benign.
"What cellular changes promote the growth of breast cancer, and which agents can halt that progression? These are the questions we hope to answer."
Becky Levine | dukemed news
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