Health Watch - Tracking Breast Cancer Treatment

A new tool can tell women if their treatment is working within.

Joanne Nevison was calm after learning she had breast cancer. Then, she talked to her surgeon.

"That's when reality hit home, and she told me my whole breast is pretty much cancer," Nevison says.

She started chemotherapy. But Greg Czarnota, M.D., Ph.D., a radiation oncologist at Odette Cancer Centre with the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, says it can take months to know if a particular type of chemo is effective.

"Potentially, up to 70 percent of the people receiving this type of chemotherapy may not be deriving a benefit," Dr. Czarnota says.

Now, he's studying a device that uses light-scattering technology to track treatment.

"Rather than giving someone six months of ineffective chemotherapy and then you run out of time because the disease has progressed, you may be able to very quickly switch it to a type of chemotherapy that works," Dr. Czarnota says.

The laser scans the breast to determine metabolic activity in the tissue. Instead of months, the laser can reveal if chemo is working within days.

"To be able to have this technology and use it to customize someone's chemotherapy could mean, to be honest, [the difference] between life and death," Dr. Czarnota says.

After just seven days of treatment, it's clear Nevison's chemo is working.

"I think it's the way of the future," Dr. Czarnota says.

After her first round of chemo, Nevison had a mastectomy. She's now getting a second round to keep her cancer in check.

"Thank God for all this research and technology that they have," she says.

Nevison is thankful she was in the study and hopes more women will soon benefit from the research.

The technology is already approved in Canada to diagnose cancer, but it is still under study as a way to track how well treatment is working. Dr. Czarnota says the Canadian-based company that developed the device expects to have centers in the United States involved with the next phase of the tracking study.


Natalie Chung-Sayers
Public Relations
Sunnybrook Research Institute

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