A kinder mammogram, non-surgical lumpectomy

Mammography without compression. Lumpectomy without surgery. These potential advances, developed and under investigation at UC Davis, were the focus of the UC Davis Cancer Center's fall "Evening with Experts" forum. The forum, now in its fourth year, is a free community education series co-sponsored by UC Davis Cancer Center and the American Cancer Society.

Breast CT

Breast CT may be able to detect breast cancer earlier than mammography — without the need for uncomfortable breast compression. The first breast CT technology was tested in the 1970s, but abandoned as impractical. Boone's new breast CT prototype, developed at UC Davis, is the first breast CT to reach clinical testing in a generation.

“We think this technology may allow radiologists to routinely detect breast tumors at about the size of a small pea,” Boone says. “In contrast, mammography detects tumors that are about the size of a garbanzo bean. Tumor size at detection is one of the most important factors in determining breast cancer prognosis, so if we can detect smaller cancers and do so routinely, survival from this disease will improve.”

Unlike mammography, in which the breast is squeezed between two plates, the breast CT machine requires no breast compression. The patient lies face down on a padded table. The table has a circular opening in it, through which the patient places one breast at a time. A CT machine under the table scans each breast. The screening takes about 17 seconds per breast.

photo of breast ct machine with model
Breast CT may be able to detect breast cancer earlier than mammography.

Boone and his colleagues are testing the new technology in a clinical trial of UC Davis patients with recent mammograms suspicious for breast cancer. Trial participants have a breast CT examination followed by a needle biopsy of the suspicious tissue. If the trial confirms that breast CT detects tumors as well as mammography, as investigators expect, the next step will be a larger trial to determine whether the new technology can indeed detect tumors earlier than mammography.

Radiofrequency ablation

Radiofrequency ablation is a technique that was developed and pioneered by researchers at UC Davis. The technology has been shown effective in liver tumors, renal cell carcinoma and some primary and metastatic lung cancers.

Now McGahan, in collaboration with surgical oncologists at UC Davis Cancer Center, is testing the procedure for the treatment of small breast tumors that are close to the surface of the skin.

Sometimes referred to as "nonsurgical lumpectomy," the procedure uses radio wave energy, delivered via a small wand inserted into a tumor, to literally cook cancer cells to death. The procedure offers two potential advantages over current surgical options: A better cosmetic outcome and less destruction of normal breast tissue, allowing for an easier surgical recovery.