Breakthroughs in Finding & Treating Breast Cancer

Researchers are always on the hunt for new and better ways to diagnose and treat breast cancer. From nanotechnology to improved tests, they have made some amazing breakthroughs.

Improved Imaging

Usually, a mammogram and breast ultrasound are used to screen for breast cancer. Sometimes, doctors will also use breast MRIs. But researchers are studying newer imaging tests to help.

Some of these tests include:

Optical imaging --Light is passed into the breast and the test measures the amount of light that comes back or passes through the tissue. Researchers are studying the use of this test with MRIs or 3D mammograms to help diagnose breast cancer.

Molecular breast imaging (MBI) -- Doctors inject a drug that’s slightly radioactive into a vein. Called a tracer, this drug attaches itself to any breast cancer cells. A special camera then sees the tracer and any cells. This test is being studied to be used with mammograms for women with dense breasts or as a way to look at breast lumps or unusual areas seen on a mammogram.

Positron emission mammography (PEM) -- With the PEM scan, sugar is attached to a radioactive particle to look for cancer cells. This test can also be used when an MRI is recommended but cannot be performed.

Electrical impedance imaging (EIT) -- Breast cancer cells conduct electricity differently than normal cells. This test looks for that difference. It passes a bit of current through the breast and looks for changes with small electrodes on the skin.

Targeted Therapy

These drugs target cells that make too much of a protein called HER2. The protein is found in some people who have breast cancer.

The targeted drugs include:

Bone-Directed Treatments

Breast cancer can spread to the bones. There are drugs that can prevent that spread or treat it when it happens.

Drugs like pamidronate (Aredia) and zoledronic acid (Zometa) help strengthen bones. They also can lower the chance of fractures in bones made weak by breast cancer.

Denosumab (Xgeva) can help make bones stronger and ease the chance of fractures in bones that have been weakened by cancer.



This is the science of using very tiny objects. There’s a lot of research in this field in cancer detection and treatment.

Using nanoparticles, chemotherapy can target the cancer cells directly, without hurting the tissue around them. That would make the drugs more effective and cause fewer harmful side effects. There are several drugs approved for use. Others are being tested.

Devices that use nanotechnology can also help find cancer. They let doctors look for signs of it in blood or other fluids.

Clinical Trials

New drugs and therapies are being tested all the time. The goal is to offer more effective, less-toxic treatment with fewer side effects. Taking part in one of these trials may allow you to try a treatment years before it reaches the market. Ask your doctor if a trial might be right for you.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Kumar Shital, DO on July 17, 2020



American Cancer Society: "Experimental breast imaging tests," "What's new in breast cancer research and treatment?"

MayoClinic: "Breast Cancer: Treatment and Drugs."

National Cancer Institute: "Nanotechnology: Benefits for Treatment and Clinical Outcomes," "Opportunities in Cancer Nanotechnology: A Conversation with NCI’s Dr. Piotr Grodzinski."

UpToDate: " Patient information: Breast cancer guide to diagnosis and treatment (Beyond the Basics)."

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