DURHAM, N.C. — Ninety percent of breast cancer cases occur at random, with no family history or known risk factors. A new test in clinical trials at Duke can detect changes in breast cells that could lead to cancer.
Six months after Rebecca Kinsey gave birth to her son, John, she learned she had breast cancer.
"It's a time that should be just very happy, full of joy, the birth of my first child. Then you find the classic lump in the breast," Kinsey said.
Kinsey is now cancer-free and is not worried about it coming back. That is because a new test, called a breast Pap smear, can find genetic changes in breast cells that can often lead to cancer.
"For the first time, we can really have a window into what's happening in the breast," said Duke oncologist Dr. Victoria Seewaldt. "We can look for changes early on, rather than sitting around and waiting for somebody to develop cancer, which to my mind, is totally unacceptable."
Doctors use a fine needle to extract cells from the breast. Women with abnormal cells receive various drugs and natural supplements designed to attack the problem early. Regular tests can see how well those strategies are working.
"We're going to have better prevention, we're going to have better detection," Seewaldt said. "It's going to happen for us in our lifetime. And it's going to really happen for our daughters."
The test will not replace mammograms or self-exams, but it will give women a more complete picture of potential problems and early enough to avoid drastic treatments like chemotherapy and radiation.
"With the prevention program, I've got peace of mind knowing that I can be tested within this," Kinsey said. "I'm here to tell you, I'm going to see my child grow up and I'm going to be there for every part of his life."
Duke experts say the test works especially well in women with larger or denser breasts because the test can detect abnormal cells mammograms or self exams cannot pick up.
The test is in clinical trials at three centers nationwide, and is under the direction of Duke and the University of Kansas Medical Center.