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Detecting Cancer Early in Women with Dense Breasts

Photo of breast cancer survivor, Kristin.

Kristin, a breast cancer survivor

When Kristin learned she had breast cancer, her heart sank with the idea that her number was up. “Bingo. It’s my turn,” she thought.

After 20 years of work at the Mayo Clinic and as the widow of a Mayo researcher, Kristin was no stranger to cancer and disease—from both the research and clinical sides. Her own annual physical exams and mammograms at Mayo had always come up clean.

Things changed in August 2017, when a Mayo doctor invited her to participate in a research study of a new FDA-approved technology called LumaGEM, which uses a small amount of a radioactive chemical to detect breast cancer.

Developed with support from NCI’s Small Business Innovation Research program, this new technology, which is a type of molecular breast imaging (MBI), is potentially promising for women with dense breasts whose mammograms are very difficult to read.

Kristin agreed to join the study, undergoing both routine mammograms and MBI. Although Kristin’s mammograms continued to show no abnormality, her MBI scan revealed a mass that was confirmed by a biopsy to be an aggressive stage I breast cancer, which was removed surgically.

Kristin, who is undergoing additional treatment, reflected, “Were I not a research subject in that study, I don’t know where I’d be today. This technology, I’m convinced, saved my life.”

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