With breast cancer as the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women in the United States, biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies are investing time, energy and huge amounts of money into crafting innovative new breast cancer diagnosis and treatment options.
Questions about the reliability of mammograms have surfaced in recent years, and a new study revealing that genetic breast cancers show up on average eight years earlier in second-generation patients emphasizes the need for better diagnostics in the field. And innovators are responding.
Earlier this year, the FDA approved a 3-D breast cancer detection device called the Selenia, which works with 2-D imaging to give radiologists a clearer image and more data to work with in making a diagnosis. (VIDEO: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lTG69-xHsP8) A different but similar company is working on another 3-D device that uses ultrasound paired with computer algorithms, rather than radiation like in a mammogram, to differentiate between malignant and benign masses in the breast.
Although mammography remains the gold standard in breast cancer detection, there has also been interest around nuclear breast imaging, the umbrella phrase for supplemental testing methods that use a radiopharmaceutical agent.
Lymphoseek, a radioactive tracing agent that could be used by surgeons to see during an operation whether breast cancer or melanoma has spread to particular lymph nodes, is currently undergoing review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Other radiopharmaceuticals, like Enlyton Ltd.'s cancer-specific antigen, are being developed to make tumors stand out in medical screenings (VIDEO: http://enlyton.net/learning-center/video).
A Minnesota company is taking a different approach to detecting and monitoring breast cancer by developing a blood test called HERscan that would identify a protein shed into the blood by cancerous tissue.
Drugs such as Arimidex, Herceptin, Femara and Taxotere are still being used to treat breast cancer, but there are also more than a few new innovative products in the pipeline that could change the way treatment is administered.
A University of Cincinnati researcher is working on a drug that indirectly targets estrogen in the breast, causing minimal disruption to the hormone's function in the rest of the body, unlike other cancer drugs.
On the drug front, there are also a number of breast cancer vaccines being tested, some of them using dual technologies to shrink tumors. Immunophotonics' combination laser and drug vaccine therapy being targeted for late-stage metastatic cancer, for example, first breaks down a tumor using a laser. It then uses a drug to stimulate the body's immune system to purge the tumor cells.
But no matter how promising they sound, all of these new drugs and devices must undergo an extensive regulatory approval process before they can be brought to market and used for breast cancer detection and treatment.