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    New Procedure Detects Early Breast Cancer Cells


    Who are the high-risk women who could benefit from the test?

    Women with cancer in one breast already have a very high risk in the other breast, Dooley says. "By doing lavage, whether it's at their first breast cancer treatment or later on, we can find out if they have premalignant changes. Drug choices can be made during the course of their treatment or follow-up to prevent breast cancer in that remaining breast."

    Also, women with a strong family history of breast cancer or genetic markers for it can benefit, he tells WebMD. "The problem with most risk factors, as well as genetic tests for breast cancer risk, they don't tell you what point in life the risk escalates. This procedure tells them about immediate danger."

    However, it's not a procedure every woman should seek out, says Debbie Saslow, PhD, director of breast and cervical cancer at the American Cancer Society.

    Ductal lavage "is not in the same league as mammogram or clinical breast exam, it's not a general screening tool," she tells WebMD. "It is a tool to help some women who may be at increased risk of breast cancer to further understand their risk, to help them make decisions about treatment."

    The majority of women who have had breast cancer have already taken tamoxifen, so they won't derive any benefit from taking it again, says Saslow. "For that woman, there's not much else she can do [after she finds out she has abnormal cells]. Maybe she could be more vigilant about screening, but anyone who has already had breast cancer would be vigilant. Hopefully her doctor is also going to be looking at her mammograms a lot more diligently than the average woman."

    Women with a genetic risk for breast cancer may benefit from the information, she says. "For them, ductal lavage may help them make the decision whether to have prophylactic mastectomy, take tamoxifen, or continue with mammograms and clinical examinations."

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