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How breast cancer diagnosis and treatment are improving

October 03, 2017 | Heather Shannon
woman who survived breast cancer

The diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer have made huge strides in recent years, thanks in part to ongoing clinical trials led by UCI Health researchers. Here are some of the ways in which treatment has advanced, become more precise and led to better outcomes in patients.

Tumor detection is getting better

There is simply no better tool for breast cancer screening than three-dimensional mammography, says UCI Health breast imaging expert Stephen A. Feig.


  • It can detect up to 30 percent more early-stage breast cancers than traditional mammograms
  • It reduces the rate of false positives by as much as 20 percent
  • It's more effective for women with dense breast tissue
  • There's no more radiation exposure than with traditional mammography

Learn more about 3-D mammography and how it works ›

Surgery is less invasive

The standard of treatment for breast cancer was once the radical mastectomy: removing the entire breast and much of the underlying tissue, including lymph nodes and muscles.

Today, a technology called MarginProbe gives breast cancer patients their best chance at preserving their breast and their quality of life. The device is used during surgery to check the borders of a tumor to determine whether all cancer cells have been removed. Before, patients would have to wait days for a pathology report to find out whether the tumor was fully excised.

This helps reduce the chance of a second operation to remove additional malignancies.

Learn more about MarginProbe ›

Surgery is more precise

The SAVI Scout system features a small device called a reflector, which is delivered into the tumor via a needle two days before surgery. 

During surgery, a wand-like device delivers electromagnetic waves to locate the reflector. 

Before this technology came along, surgeons would insert a guiding wire into the breast. This is uncomfortable for the patient, and the wire has a tendency to move around.

A full course of radiation — during surgery

Intraoperative radiation therapy (IORT) delivers a single concentrated dose of radiation in the tumor cavity while still in the operating room, cutting down weeks of treatment into just hours.

Traditional whole breast radiation treatment can require up to five treatments a week for up to eight weeks. It also can expose healthy tissue, such as heart and lungs, to radiation.

The treatment isn't for everyone, though. It is currently recommended for post-menopausal women with early-stage breast cancer.

Technology benefits patients with dense breasts

Fifty percent of women have dense breast tissue, which means their breasts have a higher percentage of glandular and fibrous tissue than fatty breasts.

This tissue makes it harder to detect tumors during mammography. It also makes it more challenging to remove all of the tumor during a lumpectomy.

MarginProbe helps reduce this risk by checking the margins of the tumor before surgery ends. A UCI Health study suggests that as breast density increases, MarginProbe's effectiveness in assessing the margins improves, which results in a better operation.

3-D mammography is also especially effective at detecting masses in women with dense breasts. The technology works by taking multiple images of the breast, then reconstructing them into one-millimeter slices to create unobstructed views of each layer.

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