Upstate News

January 5, 2003
Doretta Royer 315 464-4833

SUNY Upstate seeks women for national study on breast cancer detection

Dense breast tissue can make it difficult to detect breast cancer through mammography in premenopausal women. If a six-month use of a topical gel derived from tamoxifen can decrease tissue density, will the result prove effective in making mammography a better breast cancer screening tool?

SUNY Upstate Medical University is one of four sites nationwide involved in a clinical trial to test this premise. The trial, sponsored by Besins International U.S. Inc., is also being conducted at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, the New Mexico Clinical Research & Osteoporosis Center in Albuquerque and Centennial Medical Center – Women’s Hospital in Nashville.

According to SUNY Upstate’s principal investigator, Patricia Numann, M.D., mammography currently detects only about 50 percent of breast cancer in women who have very dense breast tissue. Dense breast tissue is not to be confused with fibrocystic or “lumpy breasts,” defined as benign cysts in the breast.

“Approximately one-third of breast cancer occurs in premenopausal women. This group is known to have denser breasts than older women for reasons not yet scientifically proven. Dense breast tissue and cancer tumors mimic each other by both appearing as white masses in mammograms making the mammogram difficult to read,” Numann said.

The study hopes to prove that by reducing the density of breast tissue and thereby making mammograms easier to read, the chances of developing breast cancer may be lessened and cancer that does occur may be detected earlier.

Numann is joined in the study by Linda Ellinwood, R.N., who serves as study coordinator. According to Ellinwood, Tamorex is a topical gel derived from the breast cancer prevention drug tamoxifen. The hormone estrogen is known to increase breast density and tamoxifen is known to block estrogen.

“The gel is absorbed through the skin and into the breast tissue,” Ellinwood said. “Previous studies suggest that very little Tamorex gel enters the bloodstream, thus avoiding many of the usual side effects known to be associated with Tamoxifen.”

In this double blind placebo study, participants receive either the Tamorex medicated gel or a gel containing no medication. They must apply the gel directly to the surface of their breasts once daily for a period of six months and keep a daily journal. Throughout the six months, the participants must make a total of six office visits to University Hospital’s Breast Care Center, located at 90 Presidential Plaza. They receive mammograms in the fourth and six month of participation, physician visits, a pap smear at the screening (unless one was taken within the six months of screening) and blood work at no cost.

The criteria to participate includes women who are between the ages of 18 and 45, have regular menstrual cycles, are not pregnant or breast-feeding, and no history of breast cancer. A family history of breast cancer is not a criteria for participation but may serve as an incentive for women to join the study.

To learn more about the study and/or to discuss eligibility, contact Linda Ellinwood at 315-464-2197.

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