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  February 5, 2001

New Procedure Offered
to Monitor for Breast Cancer

Breast health experts at the UConn Health Center have started using a new procedure to monitor women who are at higher risk for breast cancer. The procedure, ductal lavage, allows specialists to collect cells from the lining of a woman's milk ducts and analyze the sample for the earliest stages of cancer and other irregularities.

Studies suggest that about 95 percent of breast cancers begin in the ductal system of the breast.

"Ductal lavage is another important tool for women at higher risk for breast cancer, along with annual mammograms and regular clinical exams and monthly self exams," said Kristen Zarfos, an assistant professor of surgery, who was recently trained to perform ductal lavage procedures along with associate professor of surgery Scott Kurtzman.

"Preliminary studies about this procedure are very encouraging. For the first time, this procedure will allow us to look at the cellular activity of the lining of the milk ducts," Zarfos says. "This could be a very useful adjunct to existing tools to help detect breast cancer in its earliest stages."

By collecting cells directly from the milk ducts, the minimally invasive ductal lavage procedure functions like a "Pap smear for the breast," Kurtzman explains. The procedure may allow for an early determination of pre-malignant or malignant cells from their source of origin. Ductal lavage gives physicians and patients additional information and time to make decisions about management and therapeutic options.

The ductal lavage procedure is done during an outpatient visit and the sample sent to a laboratory for analysis.

Kurtzman encourages women to talk to their physicians about their breast cancer risk. Factors that may determine if a woman is at higher risk for developing breast cancer include: a prior history of breast cancer; mother, daughter, sister, or two or more close relatives with a breast cancer history; a history of two or more benign breast biopsies; evidence of the BRCA1/BRCA2 gene mutation that increases susceptibility to breast cancer.

If atypical or cancerous cells are detected through a ductal lavage procedure, follow-up may include closer monitoring and testing; drug therapy such as Tamoxifen, a drug that has been proven to reduce breast cancer development by 50 percent in high-risk women; or surgical intervention.

One of the leading advocates of the ductal lavage procedure is Susan Love, author of the best seller, Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book.

For more information, or to schedule an appointment with a Health Center specialist, call the UConn Cancer Center at (860) 679-2100.

Maureen McGuire