Skip to content

    Breast Cancer Health Center

    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    Breast 'Pap Smear' Predicts Likely Cancer

    New Test May Prevent Onset of Cancer by Identifying Early Cell Changes
    By
    WebMD Health News

    March 5, 2004 -- A new test is being evaluated that could predict the likely development of breast cancer in high-risk women -- allowing for treatment years before the disease is diagnosed on screening tools such as mammogram or MRI.

    The test -- dubbed a "breast Pap smear" -- entails extracting cells from breast tissue with a needle and examining them for changes that typically lead to full-blown cancer.

    If it proves fruitful in clinical trials just getting started, the test could prove to be a major breakthrough, both for women at higher risk for breast cancer and the researchers who study and treat them.

    "What we do is examine these harvested cells to see if they are atypical -- that is, they are not normal but not yet cancerous," says Carol Fabian, MD, of the University of Kansas Medical Center, who developed the test. "What we have discovered in past research is that women with these atypical cells face a fivefold increase of developing either invasive or noninvasive breast cancer within four years."

    That discovery, detailed in a study she published four years ago in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, led to new clinical trials just getting started at her breast cancer center, as well as at Duke University and Ohio State. About 200 women, all deemed to be at high-risk for breast cancer because they have mutations in the so-called BRCA "breast cancer genes" or a strong family history of the disease, are being recruited for these trials.

    "This very simple, relatively painless test could tremendously refine our short-term risk predictions," Fabian tells WebMD. "It's screening cells to detect changes in them that predict the likely development of breast cancer before there is actual cancer."

    While it would be several years before the test reaches the market -- assuming the new clinical trials prove it to be effective -- some experts say the test offers great potential.

    "It's still too early to say that this is a major breakthrough, but the potential is enormous," says National Cancer Institute investigator Victor G. Vogel, MD, MHS, who directs the University of Pittsburgh's Magee-Womens Breast Cancer Program. He is not involved in the trials or the test itself.

    "The whole notion of being able to get cells from the breast and look at their biological profile, rather than just a woman's breast cancer risk profile, can potentially be a major development," he tells WebMD.

    1 | 2 | 3

    Today on WebMD

    Breast Cancer Overview
    From mammograms to living after treatment.
    Dealing with breast cancer
    Get answers to your questions.
     
    woman having mammogram
    The 3 latest tips to know.
    woman undergoing breast cancer test
    Most abnormalities aren’t breast cancer.
     
    Resolved To Quit Smoking
    VIDEO
    Breast Cancer Treatments Improving
    Article
     
    Woman getting mammogram
    Article
    Screening Tests for Women
    Article
     
    serious woman
    Article
    Pink badge on woman chest to support breat cancer
    QUIZ
     
    what is your cancer risk
    Article
    breast cancer survivors
    Article