Innovation in Breast Cancer Care
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. According to Cancer Research UK, approximately 55,0000 people will receive a diagnosis of breast cancer in the United Kingdom this year. Thanks to advances in diagnosing and treating breast cancer, more of these people will survive and live longer. Breast cancer accounts for about 30% of new female cancers and is the second-leading cause of cancer death for women. Fortunately, the five-year survival rate is now 90%.
“We’re finding breast cancer earlier because of increased awareness and better screening,” said Anne Webb, regional director of Samaritan Cancer Program. “Also, better treatments have steadily increased survival.”
Technological innovation in cancer care is helping to improve the prospects for those diagnosed with breast cancer. We’ve explored below new developments in breast cancer care:
Genetic testing is a powerful detection tool that assesses changes in genes which can indicate a greater risk of cancer. There are more than two dozen common mutations, including the BRCA1 and BRACA2 mutations that are related to breast and ovarian cancer. New forms of genetic tests can tell women their personal risk of developing breast cancer. However, previous research has shown they are not accurate for many Black, Asian or Ashkenazi Jewish women, or women with a mixed ethnic background.
A 2023 study by researchers in the UK and Israel and funded by Cancer Research UK has investigated how to improve breast cancer genetic tests for minority groups. This research is part of a wider Manchester-based project which aims to develop accurate tests for women of different ethnicities and reduce inequalities in testing.
New Diagnostic Tools
Charity Coppa Feel advocates monthly breast self-examination. Several new devices are being developed which may be useful alongside self-examination.
A new tool, named the Dotplot, is a handheld device and app that map a user’s chest and takes readings of their breast tissue using sound waves. The app provides a step-by-step guide to users, showing them exactly where they need to move the device to ensure the entire chest is checked. After the first read is complete, the app creates a region-specific report that it compares to future monthly reports. The Dotplot was the winner of the UK James Dyson Award 2022.
Furthermore, a team of researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology has unveiled a wearable ultrasound device. Ingeniously designed to seamlessly integrate into a bra, this innovative technology opens new avenues for early breast cancer diagnosis. The flexible patch, easily navigable across breast tissue, yields ultrasound images that rival the resolution of traditional medical imaging probes, making it a promising tool for enhancing patient outcomes.
Such diagnostic tools will likely help to remove the error in self-examination and produce more reliable diagnostic methods.
3D Cancer Modelling
Aggressive tumours that are resistant to traditional treatment methods are a leading cause of breast cancer death. A new study has expended research into 3D bio-printer tumours. Traditionally, medical practitioners would biopsy a patient’s tumour, extract cells, and then grow them in flat petri dishes in a lab to investigate new tumour types. “For fifty years, this was how biologists understood tumours,” explains Nafiseh Moghimi, an applied mathematics post-doctoral researcher and the lead author of the study. “But a decade ago, repeated treatment failures in human trials made scientists realize that a 2D model does not capture the real tumour structure inside the body.”
The team’s research addresses this problem by creating a 3D model that reflects the complexity of a tumour and also simulates its surrounding environment. Such 3D models permit new research methods that can help to tackle more aggressive types of cancer.
Improvements In Radiotherapy
Many breast cancer patients are prescribed radiation therapy as part of their treatment. Radiation therapy uses a high energy beam to destroy cancer cells and slow or stop cancer growth. High-energy linear accelerators, controlled by computers, deliver precise treatment based on a patient’s treatment plan. Advanced radiation therapy can deliver an effective dose while limiting damage to surrounding healthy tissue.
A recent press release from Elekta, a leader in precision radiation therapy, reveals a Comprehensive Motion Management (CMM) program that changes the way patients may be treated by increasing the precision of radiotherapy. With high-quality imaging and the possibility to interrupt the radiation beam when the treatment target moves outside the boundaries (e.g. by tracking patient movement), several benefits can be realised such as treating more cancers with radiotherapy, reducing damaging effects on healthy issue and increasing dose.
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