SAN ANTONIODuctal lavage, used to detect atypical and
malignant cells in the milk ducts, may be a useful adjunct to mammography and
other screening tools for women at high risk of developing breast cancer.
In a large, multicenter trial of 507 high-risk women with
normal mammograms and physical exams, 383 were eligible to undergo ductal
lavage. The procedure identified atypical cells in 17% of study participants
and suspicious or malignant cells in 7%, William C. Dooley, MD, of Johns
Hopkins University Breast Cancer Center, said at the 23rd Annual San Antonio
Breast Cancer Symposium.
Atypical cells on cytology confer an increase in breast cancer
risk similar to that of atypical hyperplasia on biopsy, he said.
Physicians have long known that nipple discharge is a potential
sign of cancer. "Cytology of spontaneous nipple discharge has been
performed for decades ," Dr. Dooley said. However nipple aspirate fluid
produces "far fewer" cells available for examination than ductal
lavage, he said.
Before ductal lavage begins, an anesthetic cream is applied to
the nipple to numb the area. Next, a small suction cup is used to draw small
amounts of ductal fluid up to the nipple surface. One or more of the ducts that
produce fluid are selected for lavage. In this study, women who failed to
produce nipple aspirate fluid were not candidates for ductal lavage.
To start the procedure, a microcatheter is inserted about
one-half inch into the duct opening, Anesthetic is infused through the catheter
to numb the inside of the duct. The anesthetic is followed by an infusion of 10
to 20 mL of sterile saline, which rinses the duct and collects cells from the
ductal lining. This ductal fluid is withdrawn through the catheter and
deposited into a collection vial, which is sent to a cytology lab for analysis.
Ductal lavage identifies changes in the epithelial cells that
line the ducts and lobules of the breast, the region where cancer originates.
In most cases, atypical cells do not progress to cancer, but finding atypical
cells identifies women who are at higher risk of developing breast cancer.
Ductal lavage cannot be used as a screening tool for breast
cancer because its sensitivity and specificity for identifying breast cancer
are not known, Joyce O’Shaughnessy, MD, co-director of breast cancer
research, Baylor-Sammons Cancer Center, Dallas, said at a press luncheon. The
luncheon was sponsored by ProDuct Health (Menlo Park, California), makers of
the breast aspirator and microcatheter used in the study.
When combined with a physical examination and imaging
modalities, the information gained from ductal lavage can be used to help
evaluate risk and assist patients in making decisions related to cancer
prevention, such as closer monitoring and risk reduction through drug therapy
or surgical intervention.
A patient’s cellular status can be monitored over time by
retesting specific ducts at regular intervals.
To conduct the study, 507 women at risk for breast cancer were
enrolled from 19 cancer centers. High-risk status was defined as having
previous breast cancer, testing positive for a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation, or
having a Gail index score of 1.7 or higher. Of the 507 women, 199 (39%) had a
Gail risk of at least 1.7. The women had normal mammograms and physical exams
within 12 months prior to study participation.
Of the 507 participants, 124 (24%) did not proceed to ductal
lavage due to a failure to produce nipple aspirate fluid or lack of other
eligibility factors. Lavage fluid was collected from 383 eligible women with an
average yield of 40,000 cells per sample. Three cytopathologists at a central
location reviewed the samples. Consensus among the cytopathologists reached
89%, Dr. Dooley said.
The analysis showed atypical cells in 17% of the study
participants (66 women) and suspicious or malignant cells in 7% (26 women) (see
Figure). Cells were benign in 54% (207 women), and inadequate for analysis in
22% (84 women).
Eleven women with suspicious or malignant lavage findings have
undergone surgical exploration to date. Four cases of ductal carcinoma in situ
(DCIS), five cases of multiple papilloma, and two cases of fibrocystic disease
were found. Before surgery, these women had repeat mammography with
unsuspicious findings. Long-term follow-up is needed to determine the
sensitivity and specificity of ductal lavage, Dr. Dooley said.
Ductal lavage was "safe and well tolerated," he said.
Two women had minor presumed infections that were treated and resolved with
antibiotics. Dr. O’Shaughnessy noted that 82% of the women said the pain was
less than or equal to that of their annual mammogram. She added that women who
had breast-fed their babies described having no sensation with the insertion of
Ductal lavage has a "steep learning curve," Dr.
Dooley said. Various practitioners at the participating centers, including
medical oncologists and nurse-practitioners, successfully learned to do ductal
lavage. Surgeons attempted to aspirate the highest number of ducts and had the
highest success rate (87%) in terms of obtaining a sample of nipple aspirate
Currently, ductal lavage is available only at select centers
because physicians must receive training from ProDuct Health before they
perform the procedure. A list of centers that offer ductal lavage and accept
referral patients can be found at www.ductallavage.com.