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Novel imaging technique shows lymph nodes, metastases in breast cancer without surgery

PHILADELPHIA, Aug. 23 Breast cancer tends to progress to nearby lymph nodes, but surgeons can find it difficult to determine what tissue to remove with the breast tumor and what to leave intact. National Cancer Institute researchers hope to change that.

Our advance is that we have a non-invasive method that may minimize surgical trauma, says the teams leader, Martin Brechbiel, Ph.D. At the least, surgeons can acquire a set of images and have a feel, a road map if you will, for what they need to do before the [surgical] procedure begins. Ultimately the technology could have the potential to replace surgery, though thats not proven yet.

Brechbiel reported the technique, which uses magnetic resonance imaging and a novel MRI agent, for the first time at the 228th national meeting of the American Chemical Society, the worlds largest scientific society. The pharmaceutical chemist is looking to step up from mouse studies to Phase I clinical trials.

One in seven women will develop breast cancer, according to the American Cancer Societys 2004 report of cancer statistics. Closely tied to deciding the best approach for the tumors removal a lumpectomy is now the most common is determining whether and how much of neighboring tissue may also contain cancer cells.

Thats a question surgeons can now rarely answer until the patient is on the operating table and they can probe her lymph tissue directly. And although their decision strongly impacts her chances for cancer recovery and survival, even direct inspection can render it less than clear.

Which node is the sentinel, closest in flow from the breast? Which in line after that should be the last to take? Also, lymphatic vessels are not always easy just to find. Theyre not like bone or a major organ, Brechbiel points out.

The NCI research has the potential not only to reduce doubt but also to remove much of the decision itself from the operating room. Brechbiel proposes,
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