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Newer Scans Help Doctors Treat Rare Breast Cancer

February 5, 2009

Women with a rare form of aggressive breast cancer may benefit from a newer form of imaging that gives doctors a better idea of where the disease may have spread.

Researchers from the University of Texas, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston used a combination of fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography and computed tomography (FDG-PET/CT) to evaluate inflammatory breast cancers (IBC) in 41 women between the ages of 25 and 71. IBC, which accounts for about 1 percent to 3 percent of all breast cancers and is more common in younger women and African-Americans, is usually diagnosed at a later stage, primarily because symptoms are different from typical breast cancer. For example, instead of a lump in the breast, the disease is characterized by swelling, pain, and skin changes.

In this study, 90 percent of the women had no evidence on conventional tests suggesting the disease had spread beyond the breast. But the FDG-PET/CT scans revealed the disease had, indeed, spread in nearly half of the women, and in 27 percent, it had spread to multiple other sites in the body.

The researchers believe greater use of this technology could lead to better outcomes for women with IBC because it would allow for earlier treatment. “Knowing the extent of disease up front has great implication for prognosis,” study author Homer A. Macapinlac, M.D., was quoted as saying. “IBC is a treatable disease. The sooner we can determine the extent, the sooner we can begin aggressive therapy.”

SOURCE: Journal of Nuclear Medicine, published online February 3, 2009

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