As October's pink ribbons remind us, the fight against breast cancer is far from over. But after a host of recent breakthroughs, doctors are optimistic. "There's a tremendous amount of work being done," says Deborah Rhodes, MD, a specialist in breast cancer risk at the Mayo Clinic. "With such a multifaceted approach, we're gradually winning the war." Here, some of the most inspiring discoveries of 2011.
A study coauthored by Rhodes found that a screening method called molecular breast imaging (MBI) is three times better than mammograms at finding small cancers in women with dense breasts (that's at least two-thirds of women in their 40s). Patients are injected with a radioactive agent that collects in tumor cells, making them light up on a radiation-detecting camera.
Rhodes believes MBI could be a game changer: "If we could offer an additional imaging option ideally suited to women with dense breasts, we'd have a home run."
The majority of deaths from cancer are caused not by the original tumor but by the spread of the disease. Jeffrey Pollard, PhD, of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, has discovered that a molecule called CCL2 helps stimulate a tumor's spread.
Researchers could develop CCL2-inhibiting therapies that would slow metastasis or even prevent it altogether. "Over the past 20 years, there has really been no improvement in the survival of women with metastatic breast cancer," Pollard says. "We need this type of targeted therapy to tackle the problem."
Next: New advances in prognostics, surgery and more