The average woman has a 10 per cent risk of getting breast cancer in her lifetime. Add a strong family history of the disease, and the risk rises to nearly 80 per cent. Doctors believe they've found a way to reduce those numbers with a simple nasal spray.
She's a 25-year-old mother with a strong family history of breast cancer, but Brandy Burbridge calls herself lucky. "I know that it's in the family, and I can look for it now," she says.
Burbridge can find it early thanks to a simple nasal spray she's testing once a day.
Inside the sprayer is a drug called deslorelin. Jeffrey Weitzel, M.D., an oncologist at the City of Hope Cancer Center in Los Angeles, Calif., believes it will make mammograms easier to read.
Young women have very dense breasts showing white on x-rays, making it difficult to spot cancer, which also appears as a white area on x-rays. However, after six months on the nasal spray, the breast appears less dense and darker, making it easier to spot abnormal lumps. Burbridge says, "If I do happen to get breast cancer, they'll detect it so soon that it won't really be a major issue for me."
The spray works by shutting down the production of estrogen. "It's a medicine that shuts down the ovary, sort of a medical menopause," said Weitzel.
The goal is to make mammograms easier to read, but doctors believe decreasing a woman's exposure to estrogen may do much more. "We fully expect that their breast cancer risk will go down. They'll be less likely to develop breast cancer and possibly even ovarian cancer," says Dr. Weitzel.
So far, Burbridge shows no sign of the disease that killed her mother and grandmother. If the spray works, it's possible she never will.
Doctors say if the nasal spray works, it may someday be used for women with a moderate risk of breast cancer and as a simple contraceptive. So far, studies show women on the drug are able to conceive children later. Dr. Weitzel says there are no significant side effects from the drug.
If you would like more information, please contact:
City Of Hope Cancer Center