Just as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month begins, new research is pointing the way to a better future for breast cancer patients.

First Drug Approved for Pre-Surgery Breast Cancer

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced Monday that the drug Perjeta (pertuzumab) has received accelerated approval for the neoadjuvant treatment of breast cancer, or treatment to shrink a tumor before surgery.

The drug first received FDA approval in 2012 for the treatment of metastatic breast cancer in women with the HER2 gene.

The new use is for patients with HER2-positive early stage breast cancer to reduce the cancer’s ability to grow and survive. The drug is intended to be used with trastuzumab and other chemotherapy drugs prior to surgery, though it can also be used after surgery.

“We are seeing a significant shift in the treatment paradigm for early stage breast cancer,” Dr. Richard Pazdur, director of the Office of Hematology and Oncology Products in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in a statement. “By making effective therapies available to high-risk patients in the earliest disease setting, we may delay or prevent cancer recurrences."

The drug received accelerated approval after about 39 percent of the 417 participants in a clinical trial showed no invasive cancer in the breast or lymph nodes after being treated with Perjeta plus trastuzumab and docetaxel.

Another study is currently underway with 4,800 participants. The study focuses on breast cancer survivors with the HER2 gene who are at a high risk of having their cancer return. The results of that study are expected in 2016.

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New Screening Technology Aims to Reduce False-Positives

There are currently two clinical imaging methods used to screen for breast cancer—mammograms and proton magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans—but researchers at the University of Utah and Brigham Young University are developing a new method they say is five times more accurate.

The goal of the new method is to lower the number of false-positive test results and reduce the need for invasive breast tissue biopsies. The test measures sodium levels, because sodium concentrations are believed to influence malignant tumors.

The Utah-BYU team has created an MRI device that scans for sodium levels in the breast. They’re calling it a sodium MRI, and it allegedly picks up a degree of detail not offered by other tests. The test takes 20 minutes to produce images.

“The images we're obtaining show a substantial improvement over anything that we've seen using this particular MRI technique for breast cancer imaging,” senior author and BYU electrical engineer Neal Bangerter said in a statement. “This method is giving us new physiological information we can't see from other types of images. We believe this can aid in early breast cancer detection and characterization, while also improving cancer treatment and monitoring.”

Their research was published in the journal Magnetic Resonance in Medicine.

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