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Detecting Breast Cancer Earlier

According to the National Cancer Institute, American women have a one in eight chance of developing breast cancer sometime in their lives.

The good news, reported by The Saturday Early Show's Dr. Mallika Marshall, is that most women survive the disease, and their chances of recovery are greatest when the cancer is detected early.

Dr. Marshall profiled one woman, Perse Toney, who after battling lymphoma, took no chances when she recently discovered a lump in her breast. She opted for a state-of-the-art breast cancer detection procedure.

It's called ductoscopy, and it looks for abnormal cells in the breast's milk duct system -- where most breast cancers begin.

"This allows us not only to gather fluid from the ductal linings, but actually to also visualize it," Beth Israel Medical Center's Dr. Susan Boolbol explains.

Until now, surgeons have used a procedure called ductal lavage, where cells are removed from inside the milk ducts and then tested in the lab. With ductoscopy, the surgeon can see right inside the patient's milk ducts.

Using a tiny camera and video monitor in an examining room, while the patient watches, the doctor can see if any abnormalities exist and take a sample. Boolbol and her colleagues believe the procedure may lead to the diagnosis of breast cancer earlier than ever before.

"We think that ductoscopy at this point is just the tip of the iceberg," she says. "The horizon is just enormous for the uses of this [procedure]."

As for Toney, there are no signs of cancer.

"I had a doctor tell me that worry and being stressed out was one of the worst things when you have cancer, so no I don't worry about it, what can I do?" Toney says.

Ductoscopy can be done in about 40 minutes in the doctor's office. Patients are given an anesthetic and most experience little to no pain.

Marshall explains there are many advantages to ductoscopy. The first is that it allows the surgeon to remove any lesions without making a large incision, which means there is less of a chance of damaging the surrounding tissue. And because it's not an invasive procedure, ductoscopy can be done as frequently as necessary. Another advantage to ductoscopy is that it is more likely to get an accurate result when a biopsy is done.

Currently, not every hospital or doctor offers this procedure, but it is growing in popularity. Ductoscopy will become more widely available in the coming months.

Dr. Marshall says if you think you're a candidate for a ductoscopy, ask your doctor about the procedure. If he or she doesn't offer the procedure, they can recommend someone in your area who does.