Outsmarting breast cancer

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Outsmarting breast cancer

Friday, 15 March 2019 | Dr Ramesh Sarin

Outsmarting breast cancer

As we look into the future with better remedies for the disease, the core of the cure lies in the prevention itself. Technology helps here

There were over two million new cancer cases in 2018. Altogether 1,62,468 new cases and 87,090 deaths were reported because of breast cancer in India. It is one of the leading causes of mortality among women, across geographies. The disease can be prevented if it is diagnosed at an early stage and treated with state-of-the-art treatments. What’s interesting is that researchers are boldly leaping into the future with breakthrough advanced diagnostics. What was once entirely dependent on clinical breast examination techniques, imaging tests, surgical biopsy, nipple discharge cytology and others is now even easier and more accessible. Great headways in medical sciences have made lesser invasive diagnosis possible by making use of alternative procedures. Newer technologies like Vacuum Assisted Breast Biopsy (VABB) promise accurate diagnosis as well as help in the removal of benign lesions (if any).

Vacuum Assisted Breast Biopsy is a technique that provides accurate diagnosis by allowing sufficient specimen to be obtained with a single insertion. In addition to the 100 per cent correct diagnosis, it also helps in the removal of benign lesions up to three centimetres. The biopsy can be done under sonographic, mammographic and magnetic resonance imaging guidance. It is a safe and minimally invasive procedure, performed under local anaesthesia. It is an alternative to surgical biopsy and leaves little or no scar on the skin/breast. With its credible reliability, the procedure could potentially replace surgical biopsies and the surgical removal of benign lesions. Another point to note here is that while one in eight (13 per cent) women develops breast cancer at some point in life, 60 per cent develop benign breast disease. In fact, the most common benign breast diseases are fibroadenoma and fibrocystic disease. These are not life-threatening but often cause anxiety and fear in many patients.

Over the years, there have been many debates on how to treat a suspected benign mass detected through palpation or ultrasound (US). This is what VABB solves for most patients. So, while it is important to remember that all lumps should be investigated by a healthcare professional, it is also important to know that not all lumps are cancerous. This can be now avoided by taking a less invasive, alternative procedure. Another important thing to note is that VABB assures 100 per cent diagnosis, which is what gives it an edge over many traditional forms of diagnosis. With digital mammographs and ultrasounds, you can detect small lesions before they are even present. But traditional core biopsy does not access the small lesions minutely. With VABB, it is easy to extract a large volume of tissue for further studying, without scarring the patient. Treatments like VABB are not only more accurate but also trustworthy alternatives to the inevitable scarring caused by open excision procedures. It is safe and simple. Sensitive technologies such as these are helping doctors identify which samples are cancerous and those that are not in the early stages of the treatment.

As we look into the future with smarter cures for breast cancer, the core of the cure lies in the prevention itself. Procedures like VABB are not only changing the way breast cancer is diagnosed, but also bringing to the fore a new ray of hope for patients who can be assured of the diagnosis. Technological advancements are helping patients live longer, healthier and lead more productive lives. With exciting progresses happening in the field of oncology, it’s time to bring these treatments to our people.

(The author is Senior Consultant. Surgical Oncology, Apollo Hospital, New Delhi)

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