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Ductal Lavage: An Introduction     

ProDuct ductal lavage imageThe milk ducts, the part of the breast right behind the nipple, is where breast cancer usually starts.

It can take up to ten years for cells in the ducts to change from atypical to cancer and form a lump large enough to feel or to be found on a mammogram.

If cancer could be found when cells in the ducts begin to change, it could be treated at the earliest stages. Imagine being able to detect cancerous changes years before a lump would signal breast cancer. That is what ductal lavage is aiming for.

Lavage means "to wash" and that is what the ductal lavage procedure does. Anesthetic cream is applied to the breast and a tiny suction device is placed over the nipple. A small amount of fluid is aspirated or drawn from the milk ducts. This helps locate the duct openings in the nipple. Next, a very thin catheter is inserted into the opening of the duct, fluid is pushed in and then drawn out. This fluid contains cells from inside the ducts. It is examined in a lab and any cell changes are noted.

It sounds so simple. Why didn't anyone think of this years ago?

It seems that they did. A doctor in Uruguay tried a similar procedure in the 1940s and George Papanicolaou - you know him from the PAP smear that detects precancerous changes in the cervix - worked with fluid from the breast in the 1950's. There have been others, but the moving force behind the current test is Dr. Susan M. Love, MD, an adjunct professor of surgery at UCLA, and co-founder and director of the National Breast Cancer Coalition.

A breast cancer specialist and advocate, she is one of the most respected authorities in the field today. It seemed to her that there ought to be a better way to diagnose breast cancer - on the order of the PAP smear used to detect other gynecological cancers. Her instincts and research led to the development of the current procedure and the founding of ProDuct Health.

In an interview about ductal lavage she said, "When you get breast cancer you only get it in one ductal system, not in the whole breast. . . . And my hope is that with ductal lavage we will go into the next level and be able to just squirt something down that ductal system and clean it out and never get to surgery and radiation and chemotherapy."

Currently, this procedure is only recommended for women in high risk groups. If you have:

  • A personal history of breast or ovarian cancer
  • One or more close relatives with breast cancer before menopause or in both breasts
  • Early menstruation (before 12)
  • Late menopause (after 55)
  • The birth of a first child after the age of 30 or no children
  • A previous breast biopsy showing abnormal cells, such as lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) or atypical hyperplasia

If precancerous changes are found there are several options available.

The additional pages in this article have been provided by ProDuct, the company that manufactures the devices used in ductal lavage.


More information on ductal lavage around the Web:

Breast Cancer Diagnosis: Ductal Lavage

What is Ductal Lavage?

Last Updated April 21, 2017




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