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Fight against breast cancer moves ahead

New tools in the fight against breast cancer will be the topic Wednesday when a panel of physicians gathers at Providence Medford Medical Center.

"There's a lot that's new," said Kate Newgard, a Providence "nurse navigator" who helps breast cancer patients decide how they will treat their disease.

"Treatments themselves have changed a lot," said Newgard, who will moderate the program.

"Timing of treatments has changed. We give different types of drugs depending on the type of tumor."

Two surgeons will share what they know, along with an oncologist and a radiologist. Dr. Kristin Darlington, the radiologist, will explain the different imaging technologies that are available to locate tumors, and how they can be used to confirm or refine a diagnosis.

In an interview last week, Darlington said one of the most promising new technologies, known as breast specific gamma imaging, or BSGI, allows physicians to evaluate breast tissue at the molecular level.

The technology uses a radioactive tracer to identify cancer cells in breast tissue. Malignant cells metabolize the tracer differently than normal cells and look different to a radiologist.

Providence plans to acquire a BSGI camera by early 2010. The camera will be purchased with money raised during the hospital's annual Festival of Trees in November.

Darlington said BSGI is useful for patients whose mammograms are difficult to interpret because of factors such as dense breast tissue, or lumps that can be felt but not seen with other imaging techniques. It's also useful for women who have had breast augmentation or scarring from previous surgeries.

Dr. Tracy Haley, a surgeon, will discuss new approaches in breast surgery and reconstruction. Dr. Susan Kohler, a hematologist, will talk about a new tissue sampling technique that will help women determine the likelihood of their cancer's returning, which determine whether they choose to have chemotherapy as part of their treatment.

The test is useful for women with a specific kind of breast cancer known as "early estrogen receptor positive and lymph node negative." The test looks at a group of 21 genes to see how active they are, and it produces a numerical result between 0 and 100 about a woman's chances of having her cancer return.

Newgard said women who are less likely to have a recurrence can choose to avoid chemotherapy and its painful side effects as part of their treatment.

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492 or e-mail bkettler@mailtribune.com.