The breast tissue is connected by a system of ducts which eventually open at the nipple surface (e.g. this how milk reaches the nipple for breast feeding). The majority of breast cancers arise from the cells which line these ducts.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins Breast Cancer Program have begun studies to test the feasibility of treating breast cancer by a technique called intraductal therapy. The chemotherapy drug is injected through a very tiny catheter into the opening of the ducts, which again are at the nipple surface. The chemotherapy drug then passes through all the interconnected ducts thereby reaching all the breast tissue.
Currently, chemotherapy drugs are administered through tablets one swallows or through an IV (injected into vein). When anti-cancer drugs are administered in this fashion, there are often many side effects, and very little of the drug actually makes it into the breast tissue. However, the researchers found that when anti-cancer drugs are administered through the ducts, very little of the drug reaches the rest of the body (therefore, side effects are substantially less) and most of the drug stays in the breast tissue where it was intended.
Another interesting and very promising observation was also made by these researchers. When normal breast tissue was exposed to the chemotherapy drug, these cells showed resistance to developing breast cancer. Perhaps this will be the treatment of the future…that is a woman undergoing an intraductal injection of a chemotherapy drug which in turn prevents her from developing breast cancer.
I dedicate this month’s blog to all those affected by breast cancer. Please continue to get your routine breast exams and mammograms. And remember, for women who are at higher risk for developing breast cancer and those with dense breast tissue, mammograms are often not enough…you may benefit from breast ultrasound and breast MRI. Make sure your breast imaging studies (mammogram, breast ultrasound, breast MRI, etc.) are interpreted by a dedicated fellowship-trained breast radiologist.