6 advances in breast cancer diagnosis and treatment

Breast cancer remains one of the two most-common types of cancer in the world, according to the World Health Organization. It’s the fifth-leading cause of cancer-related deaths annually. And more than 265,000 people will be diagnosed with it in the United States alone, during any given year. But there is reason for hope. Research has yielded a number of exciting developments in breast cancer diagnosis and treatment that will improve the lives of breast cancer patients for years to come. We spoke with our Senthil Damodaran, M.D., Ph.D., Jennifer Litton, M.D., and Anthony Lucci, M.D., to learn more. 1. Node preservation reduces lymphedema cases Axillary lymph nodes used to be removed from the armpit routinely during breast cancer surgery to test for metastasis. This caused chronic pain, numbness and lymphedema in about 1 in 5 patients. But studies have shown that many of those nodes can be preserved — without compromising long-term survival rates. Sentinel node mapping lets surgeons identify which lymph nodes are most likely to be affected by a tumor. Targeted axillary dissection allows surgeons to potentially preserve nodes that once tested positive for cancer, but reverted to negative status after chemotherapy or another treatment. In both cases, if tests come back negative for cancer on the first few nodes taken out, the remaining nodes can be left alone. That means fewer complications, and fewer side effects for our breast cancer patients. “About 15-20% of patients developed lymphedema when we were still routinely taking all the nodes out,” says Lucci, a surgical oncologist who specializes in breast cancer. “But when sentinel node mapping is done, and the...