Breast Cancer Archive

Articles

Researchers test new technology for screening dense breasts

Research we're watching

Can a new breast screening technology find more cancers in women with dense breast tissue? A study managed by the American College of Radiology (ACR) Center for Research and Innovation will compare contrast-enhanced spectral mammography (CESM) to other screening technologies used for dense breasts (those that contain a higher proportion of active tissue than fat). It's difficult to find cancers in dense breast tissue using traditional mammography because the active tissue shows up as white areas on a mammogram, just like cancers do, making abnormalities harder to see.

CESM is similar in some ways to traditional mammography, but before having the usual x-ray, the woman is injected with a special iodine-based contrast agent that highlights abnormal areas on the image more clearly. Cancerous tumors typically create new blood vessels when they form, and the contrast agent can reveal that increased blood flow, alerting the radiologist to a potential cancer.

Could your breast implants be making you sick?

Many women are reporting symptoms they believe are associated with their breast implants. Sometimes called breast implant illness, this combination of vague symptoms—such as hair loss, fatigue, anxiety, and depression—is also associated with a number of other conditions, including menopause, thyroid problems, and autoimmune conditions. Researchers are now working with patient advocacy groups to better understand the problem. Experts recommend that women understand the potential risks and benefits of breast implants before having the surgical procedure.

Hormones and breast cancer: What you should know

New research again links increased breast cancer risk to longer use of hormone therapy.

The link between hormone therapy and breast cancer has been recognized for years. But an analysis published Aug. 29, 2019, in The Lancet has added some additional information to the discussion. The analysis looked at 58 studies that included information on the type and timing of hormone use in individual women, and their body mass index. Researchers began gathering the studies in 1992 and continued until 2018.

We asked Dr. Wendy Chen, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, to help us sort through both the old and new information on hormone use and breast cancer and what it means for women considering starting hormone therapy.

Gene tests for all women with breast cancer could save money — and lives

Research we're watching

Doing genetic tests on all women with breast cancer, as compared with the typical practice of just testing those with a family history of the disease, is worth the extra cost, according to a study published online Oct. 3, 2019, by JAMA Oncology. The study authors say their findings should prompt the expansion of genetic testing to all women diagnosed with breast cancer. It's clear that testing breast cancer patients for genetic variants that raise breast cancer risk (such as BRCA1, BRCA2, and PALB2) would enable doctors to identify more women who carry these variants and who might benefit from preventive strategies. But researchers wondered whether doing so would be too costly. To answer that question, they used a computer model to analyze data from more than 11,000 women. They found that not only would the cost of testing all American women with breast cancer be balanced out by later savings on health care services, but also that just one year of testing could prevent an estimated 9,700 new cases of breast and ovarian cancer and 2,400 deaths.

Image: voinSveta/Getty Images

Breast Ultrasound

What is the test?

Ultrasound uses sound waves instead of radiation to generate snapshots or moving pictures of structures inside the body. This imaging technique works in a manner similar to radar and sonar. Ultrasound was developed in World War II to detect airplanes, missiles, and submarines that were otherwise invisible.

The doctor or ultrasound technician first coats a small area of your skin with a lubricant to reduce friction. He or she then places an ultrasound transducer, which looks like a microphone, on your skin and may rub it back and forth to get the right view. The transducer sends sound waves into your body and picks up the echoes of the sound waves as they bounce off internal organs and tissue. A computer transforms these echoes into an image that is displayed on a monitor.

Excisional Biopsy of the Breast

What is the test?

In an excisional biopsy of the breast, the surgeon makes an incision in the skin and removes all or part of the abnormal tissue for examination under a microscope. Unlike needle biopsies, a surgical biopsy leaves a visible scar on the breast and sometimes causes a noticeable change in the breast's shape. It's a good idea to discuss the placement and length of the incision with your surgeon beforehand. Also ask your surgeon about scarring and the possibility of changes to your breast shape and size after healing, as well as the choice between local anesthesia and general anesthesia.

How do I prepare for the test?

You'll undergo a breast exam and possibly a mammogram before the biopsy to determine where the lump is located. If you are having a sedative with local anesthesia, or if you are having general anesthesia, you'll be asked not to eat anything after midnight on the day before the surgery.

Large Core Needle Biopsy of the Breast

What Is It?

A biopsy is a tissue sample removed from the body and examined under a microscope. In a breast biopsy, a doctor removes tissue from a suspicious area so that a pathologist can determine whether the tissue contains cancerous cells.

At one time, surgeons only performed biopsies by making an incision in the breast and removing the suspicious tissue along with some normal tissue from around it. These surgical biopsies leave scars and may change the size and shape of the breast.

Stereotactic Biopsy of the Breast

What is the test?

Stereotactic biopsy of the breast is a special type of large core needle biopsy. It is one method of guiding the biopsy needle to the desired location in the breast. Core needle biopsy can also be guided by ultrasound or by the standard x-ray techniques used in mammography. Large core needle biopsy is often the diagnostic method of choice to evaluate abnormalities that are visible on a mammogram but cannot easily be felt by hand.

Core needle biopsy may not be suitable for women who have:

Wire Localization Biopsy of the Breast

What is the test?

A wire localization biopsy is a type of surgical biopsy.

Sometimes an abnormal area will be seen on the mammogram that clearly should be tested for cancer or completely removed from the breast, but this area is not easily felt as a lump on examination. The mammography department can help your surgeon to find the area more easily by using a technique called "wire localization."

High risk for breast cancer? You might benefit from preventive medication

Research we're watching

Women at high risk for breast cancer might benefit from taking medication to prevent the disease, says a new recommendation from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), a national group of experts. Medications such as tamoxifen (Nolvadex), raloxifene (Evista), and aromatase inhibitors have been shown to help prevent invasive, estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer, but they can cause serious side effects, such as other cancers and blood clots. For some women, the potential benefits of these drugs outweigh those risks. The USPSTF, however, recommends against routine use of these medications for women who are not at high risk for breast cancer, because the potential benefit is much smaller. Women who are over age 35 and are at high risk for breast cancer or who have had previous benign breast lesions (such as atypical ductal or lobular hyperplasia or lobular carcinoma in situ) might want to discuss this recommendation with their doctor. The USPSTF encouraged doctors to weigh the risk of breast cancer against potential drawbacks of the medications and the individual woman's risk for adverse effects.

Image: ShutterOK/Getty Images

Free Healthbeat Signup

Get the latest in health news delivered to your inbox!

Sign Up
Harvard Health Publishing Logo

Thanks for visiting. Don't miss your FREE gift.

The Best Diets for Cognitive Fitness, is yours absolutely FREE when you sign up to receive Health Alerts from Harvard Medical School

Sign up to get tips for living a healthy lifestyle, with ways to fight inflammation and improve cognitive health, plus the latest advances in preventative medicine, diet and exercise, pain relief, blood pressure and cholesterol management, and more.

Harvard Health Publishing Logo

Health Alerts from Harvard Medical School

Get helpful tips and guidance for everything from fighting inflammation to finding the best diets for weight loss...from exercises to build a stronger core to advice on treating cataracts. PLUS, the latest news on medical advances and breakthroughs from Harvard Medical School experts.

BONUS! Sign up now and
get a FREE copy of the
Best Diets for Cognitive Fitness

Harvard Health Publishing Logo

Stay on top of latest health news from Harvard Medical School.

Plus, get a FREE copy of the Best Diets for Cognitive Fitness.