CHICAGO, March 26 Harvard Medical School researchers are working on a new, simpler way to distinguish malignant tumors from non-cancerous masses when screening for breast cancer.
Scientists in the laboratory of Dr. John Frangioni, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of medicine and radiology at Harvard Medical School, have developed a contrast agent that selectively targets and highlights malignant micro-calcifications in the breast, while ignoring similar micro-calcifications found in benign breast conditions.
Details of the new technique were described today at the 233rd national meeting of the American Chemical society, the worlds largest scientific society, by Harvards Kumar R. Bhushan, Ph.D., who led the chemistry group that participated in the research.
When used with a non-invasive imaging method that relies on harmless light instead of X-rays, the contrast agent could help doctors diagnose disease within minutes and determine where biopsies are needed.
Because this agent is highly selective in targeting the product of malignant tumors, this approach may prove most useful for monitoring women who have dense breast tissue, or those who are at a higher-than-average risk for developing a malignant breast tumor, Frangioni says.
For screening applications, the new technique most likely would be used to supplement, not replace, mammography, according to Frangioni. But the two methods used together, he says, may potentially catch more cancers than mammography alone.
Mammography is still considered the gold standard for early detection of breast cancer, but the method often gives false positives, requiring additional screenings and painful biopsies for patients. In addition, studies show that traditional mammograms may miss 10 percent to 20 percent of breast cancers, especially if the tumor is buried in dense tissue.
About half of women under 50 and a third of older women have naturally dense bre