Beating breast cancer
Screen savers. Mammograms are now being supplemented by additional technologies: digital mammography, for example, allows doctors to send a suspicious mammogram in an electronic format (similar to e-mail) to other doctors for faster consultation; computer-aided detection systems help draw examiners' attention to suspicious areas. And electrical impedance scanning, finds tumors by recognizing the different ways malignant and normal tissue respond to the flow of electricity.
Surgical solutions. Needle biopsies employ a sophisticated guidance system to locate and sample tissue from an abnormal area. In ductal lavage, cells from the breast's milk ducts are collected, then checked for changes that might indicate cancer.
In terms of cancer treatment, the emphasis is now on conserving the breast. Studies show that a lumpectomy plus radiation therapy offers survival rates similar to more extensive operations.
Chemical cures. Doctors are exploring the potential of new chemotherapy drugs, and new combinations of drugs. Studies are also under way to evaluate high-dose chemotherapy and pre-operative chemotherapy; by shrinking the tumor before surgery, the latter treatment may allow more women to choose breast-conserving surgery over mastectomy.
Hormone therapies, such as the drug tamoxifen, are used to treat breast cancer. One study shows that it may also help prevent the disease in women at high risk. Now scientists are also evaluating raloxifene, a medicine that may offer the benefits of tamoxifen with fewer side effects.
Biological therapies that team up with the body's immune system to fight breast cancer are also emerging as important tools. The first such therapy was approved in 1998: Herceptin, a drug that works by destroying tumors that produce an excess of the protein HER-2. --Annie Murphy Paul