The National Cancer Institute estimates there are more than 2 million breast cancer survivors in the United States, a number they attribute to early detection and improved treatment." However, more research is necessary as forty three thousand women will die of breast cancer this year. Several private institutions along with government-supported agencies such as The National Cancer Institute (NCI) are financing the development of several new technologies to detect breast tumors. This research ranges from technologies under development in research labs to those that have reached the stage of testing in humans, known as clinical trials.
Breast cancer kills fewer women each year than lung cancer, however statistics show that 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. The risk increases with age, as an 80-year-old is many times more likely to develop breast cancer than a 20-year-old woman. About three-quarters of all breast cancers occur in women over 50; only 5% develop in women under 40. A woman's family history, weight, alcohol use, and when she first had children may also play a role -- though Dr. Lisa Bailey, a Berkeley oncologist, notes that "at least half of all breast cancers occur in women who do not have any of these risk factors."
Julia Knight, Ph.D., a Canadian researcher who has worked on developing a more realistic model for calculating breast cancer risk states, "The one-in-eight statistic comes from looking at large groups of women over a lifetime ... it doesn't say anything about any one woman's specific situation right now, given her environment, and personal risk factors."
The most important factor of this statistic is that one in eight refers to diagnosis, not death. So while many women will indeed develop breast cancer (175,000 in 1999, estimates the American Cancer Society) the vast majority of those women, especially those who find the cancer early, will beat the disease and live on. The five-year survival rate for breast cancer found before it has spread outside the breast is 97%. The five-year survival rate for all breast cancers, including those found after they've spread throughout the body, is somewhat lower, at 85%.
Efforts to improve conventional mammography include digital mammography, where computers assist in the interpretation of the x-rays. Other studies are aimed at developing teleradiology, sending x-rays electronically, for long-distance clinical consultations. A non-X-ray based technology under development is magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
In addition to imaging technologies, NCI-supported scientists are exploring methods to detect markers of breast cancer in blood, urine, or nipple aspirates that may serve as early warning signals for breast cancer.
A screening mammogram is an x-ray of the breast used to detect breast changes in women who have no signs of breast cancer. It usually involves two x-rays of each breast. Using a mammogram, it is...