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Destroying breast cancer

On target to destroy a deadly disease

March 2007

by Natalie Gutierrez

Eileen Lundin lived all over the world - China, Canada, Panama and throughout South America. Her husbandís job as a project director with the United Nations took them across the globe. Lundinís professions as a registered nurse and social worker enabled her to do what she loved best - care for patients - no matter where she lived. In 1993 when her husband retired, the two returned to her hometown of San Antonio and she went to work for The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. But it was here that Lundin would embark on the longest and most difficult journey of her life.

On a sunny, carefree day in August 1996, Lundin underwent a routine mammogram at the University Health System (UHS). Soon after, her physician, Pam Otto, M.D, pulled her aside with the results. The news was alarming. Dr. Otto, director of breast imaging and intervention and director of radiology at the Health Science Center and UHS, had detected an abnormality in Lundinís mammogram and recommended she have a biopsy.

The faint shadow Dr. Otto saw on the mammogram turned out to be infiltrating lobular carcinoma, a tiny row of precancerous cells that are difficult to detect through mammography and canít be detected with a self breast exam. A decade later, after undergoing a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation therapy, and after years of taking medication, Lundin said she is happy to be cancer free and alive.


"I was born and raised in
San Antonio and Iím proud to say that patients donít have to travel the world to get the best in health care because they can get it right here in this city."


-Eileen Lundin


  Eileen Lundin
Eileen Lundin

"I owe my life to Dr. Otto, who spotted my cancer so many years ago," Lundin, 65, said. "Her suspicious mind, skill and keen eye made all the difference." Lundinís mother died of breast cancer in 1966, so Lundin knew she was at high risk to develop the disease.

"Many women have a family history of breast cancer, so genetics is a factor in their cases," Dr. Otto said. "But no matter what the case, early detection is key."

Dr. Ottoís passion for her work, and the strength and perseverance of survivors such as Lundin, inspire her to seek out better ways to detect and beat breast cancer.


The Promise of Precision

Last year, thanks to Dr. Otto, Health Science Center physicians were the first in San Antonio to offer a new, improved and less invasive method of detecting breast cancer early.

The Mammotomeģ MR Biopsy System allows physicians to use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to target suspicious lesions in the breast with precise accuracy. After a lesion is identified, a long needle-like device is inserted, which then cuts and vacuums the suspicious tissue to be tested. The procedure is minimally invasive, leaves no scar tissue behind and is done on an outpatient basis. Dr. Otto says itís the latest image-guided weapon in the war against a deadly enemy.

"Previously, if MRI detected a lesion in a patientís breast that could not be visualized by ultrasound or mammography, we would have to send the patient to have it surgically removed in order to biopsy it," Dr. Otto said. "But with our new system, the invasive surgical procedure is not necessary."

The Mammotome MR Biopsy System eliminates the need for patients to be anesthetized; eliminates the risk of distorting breast tissue, which makes subsequent mammograms difficult to read; and minimizes pain and recovery time for the patient.

Instead of having to take a golf-ball-size piece of tissue from the breast as was common in the surgical procedure, the precision of the new system allows physicians to procure a piece as small as a pencil lead. After the tissue is removed, the device inserts a tiny clip into the breast (about the size of a grain of rice) so that when the patient returns for subsequent biopsies, physicians will be able to easily see the exact location where suspicious tissue was previously removed.

"This is a win-win situation for both physician and patient," Dr. Otto said.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women (not counting some kinds of skin cancer). The disease strikes regardless of race or ethnicity, and is the most common cause of death from cancer among Hispanic women. But experts say that when detected early, the five-year survival rate is 96 percent.

"We can now offer very-high-risk patients an effective screening tool with MRI and MRI-guided biopsies as necessary," Dr. Otto said. "That means peace of mind, and for some it could mean the difference between life and death."

The Mammotome MR Biopsy System was launched in May 2006 by Ethicon Endo-Surgery Inc., a Johnson & Johnson company. Through the efforts of Dr. Otto, the University Health System, one of the Health Science Centerís teaching hospital partners, received a $17,500 grant from the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation to help fund the purchase of this equipment.

Lundin said she is excited that Dr. Otto has brought this new technology to San Antonio.

"I was born and raised in San Antonio and Iím proud to say that patients donít have to travel the world to get the best in health care because they can get it right here in this city," Lundin said. "Breast cancer doesnít have to be a death sentence, especially if it is detected early. With excellent physicians like Dr. Otto operating this new technology, more people will have the chance to survive cancer like I did."

At the Health Science Center, physicians are targeting breast cancer to destroyit and make the road to recovery much easier for those diagnosed with the disease.

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Updated 12/11/14