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Research suggests rethinking standard breast cancer treatment

St. Joseph's Hospital Health Center

Some doctors across the country are starting to suggest that maybe there is a different way to treat a certain kind of breast cancer. Not all breast cancers are the same and the diagnosis of one type has has soared in recent years due to advances in radiology.

St. Joseph's Hospital breast cancer surgeon Kara Kort said this early stage cancer is called ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). The non-invasive breast cancer diagnosis amounts to 25 percent of all breast cancer patients. That number has soared due to recent advances in radiology that can turn up very tiny cancers. These patients are currently treated with mastectomies and radiation among other things.

“It’s actually cancer cells, but they are contained within the breast duct," Kort said. "They haven’t broken out of the breast duct. So, theoretically they can’t spread to your lymph nodes or anywhere and cause death.”

Kort said recent research is now prompting questions about what kind of treatment is necessary in these cases. It showed that patients with this condition had close to the same likelihood of dying of breast cancer after 20 years as women in the general population.

The question is, Kort said: is it necessary to continue to treat these cancers with the disfiguring surgery and treatments that are called for when patients are diagnosed with more aggressive breast cancers or should there be more individualized treatment?

"It’s not going to be easy to change practice patterns and thoughts," She said. "But, what some experts are saying is maybe, just maybe, if a woman gets a biopsy of a tiny little area, that’s non-invasive and it doesn’t look aggressive, then maybe, we could just watch it or treat it with perhaps anti-estrogen therapy and keep it at bay and just keep an eye on those women and see what happens.”

Kort said there is a study underway comparing this treatment to those that involve mastectomies and radiation.  She  also emphasizes that this only applies to the non-invasive breast cancers, which now account for a quarter of all breast cancer diagnoses.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.