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Ductal lavage may detect early breast cancer

At times when the breast lumps are too small to be picked up by a mammogram, the patient may be unaware that she is a potential candidate for breast cancer. But to offset this problem, scientists at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore headed by Dr. Saraswathi Sukumar, have devised a new method of detecting early stages of breast cancer by using a new method called ductal lavage. Ductal lavage, involves "washing" breast milk ducts with saline and examining cells for signs of precancerous or cancerous changes.

Sukumar's team examined samples of ductal fluid from women with breast cancer and women without the disease to detect signs of a process called methylation.

The presence of markers for this process suggests that a woman has breast cancer or precancerous breast cells, according to her. Ductal lavage is a "very sensitive, relatively simple test," according to Sukumar.

The procedure, which takes about half an hour to perform, eventually may become a part of routine breast cancer screening, she said. Ductal lavage "would be a great tool for assessing risk," according to Sukumar.

If the lavage detected precancerous cells, a woman could be followed more closely to see whether she developed cancer, Sukumar explained. Based on the test, women might be treated with drugs shown to prevent breast cancer.

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