The research involves a minute endoscope, no thicker than a few strands of human hair, which can pass through the nipple and search for the earliest signs of cancer within the breast.
Consultant breast surgeon, Dr Nicolas Beechey-Newman from Guys Hospital in London, told a news briefing at the 3rd European Breast Cancer Conference in Barcelona that micro-endoscopy had the potential to detect signs of abnormality in cells lining the breast ducts possibly up to decade before invasive breast cancer develops.
"When we first talked about this technique the response from some quarters was that it was science fiction. But weve proved the doubters wrong. Weve started to use it on a small number of patients and have already had successes. In one patient who was having a prophylactic mastectomy we found a lesion close to the nipple that would undoubtedly have been missed by the pathologists. It turned out to be a 2 mm invasive cancer. So, for this patient who had made the difficult decision to have a prophylactic mastectomy because of her high breast cancer risk, it confirmed that she would indeed have developed breast cancer in the future.
"I envisage that breast duct endoscopy will be a method of screening high risk patients, such as those who have normal mammograms and clinical examination, but either a genetic abnormality that predisposes them to breast cancer or a very strong family history of the disease," he said.
Breast endoscopy has been tried before with sporadic reports in medical journals over the last decade, but the endoscopes have been too large. Advances in fibre optics have produced endoscopes less than 1 mm across - ideal in size but with poor picture quality because they contain very few glass fibres. So the Guys team, working with endoscope designers an
Contact: Margaret Willson
Federation of European Cancer Societies