Stopping Cancer Early – The Best Possible Investment
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The breast cancer program is working to improve early detection of potentially lethal breast cancer by identifying biomarkers that complement existing imaging methods and by developing new imaging alternatives.

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among American women, except for skin cancers. About 1 in 8 (12%) women in the U.S. will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime, according to the American Cancer Society. But with treatment and early detection techniques, millions of women are surviving breast cancer today.

Mammography is currently the best available tool for breast cancer detection and has been shown to reduce mortality in clinical trials. However, the method misses some tumors, particularly in women with dense breast tissue. Mammography also suffers from a high rate of false positives, in which an imaging finding turns out not to be cancer after follow-up tests.

Dr. Pitteri works specifically in breast and prostate cancer, and is involved in examining proteins in the blood, as well as differences in glycosylation on those proteins, to incorporate them into an early detection blood test.


The Breast Cancer Program is focused at Stanford and combines expertise in breast cancer care, in breast imaging, and in studying proteomic and gene expression changes in the body in response to disease.

Team members include:
• Debra Ikeda, M.D., Stanford University
• Jafi Lipson, M.D., Stanford University
• Sharon Pitteri, Ph.D., Stanford University
• Rob West, M.D., Ph.D., Stanford University

Progress and Results

Investigators at the Canary Center at Stanford are collaborating with researchers and clinicians at the Stanford Cancer Institute on a project to identify gene expression and protein changes in patient specimens as breast cancer develops, and to determine whether those changes correlate with specific imaging findings.

The team is establishing a Stanford University tissue bank of matched tumor and normal breast biopsy samples, mammography, ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging studies, and blood samples.

The team will integrate the data and identify correlations between plasma protein and tumor gene expression profiles, pathology, and radiographic imaging studies. The dataset will represent the most comprehensive analysis of its kind to date. Potential biomarkers that signal the development of the tumor would form the basis for early detection blood tests to complement imaging.

Additional work aims to identify biomarkers that distinguish women with cancer from those with benign conditions (such as a cyst). These biomarkers would potentially reduce the number of unnecessary invasive follow-up tests and enhance the interpretation of mammographic images for early detection of breast cancer.

Breast Cancer Imaging

New imaging approaches may provide a more sensitive and more accurate approach for the detection of breast cancers. We are testing several imaging alternatives, including a new PET imaging agent, enhanced ultrasound using targeted microbubbles, and photoacoustic imaging, for their ability to identify breast cancer early and to better distinguish cancer and benign conditions.

Where Canary Science is Happening