(Inside Science TV) -- One in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. You have probably either had, will have, or know somebody who has had breast cancer. Why one person gets the disease and another doesn’t is not completely known. What doctors do know is that breast cancer can be caused by damaged DNA inside a cell. That cell mutates and multiplies over and over.
The good news is earlier detection, increased awareness, better treatments and technology means it’s more likely than ever before patients will survive it.
"Many women have a phase called non-invasive cancer," said Seema Khan, a surgical oncologist at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. Non-invasive cancer is confined to a woman's milk ducts or breast lobes and has not spread beyond the breast tissue.
Anti-hormone drugs are a common treatment for this type of breast cancer. And now, oncologists at Northwestern are developing a gel for the skin that goes on the outside of the breast to kill the cancer.
The gel is made out of the drug, Tamoxifen -- that’s already used to treat and prevent breast cancer.
"You could put Tamoxifen in a gel and apply it to the breast skin, and it would get through the skin in sufficient concentrations that it would actually do what it needed to in the breast, but the exposure to the rest of the body would be low," explained Khan.
Unlike other typical cancer medications, the gel treatment is confined to the breast -- lowering the risk of damage to other organs.
"There are many reasons to expect that this would be a really positive change in the way we deliver drugs to the breast for these early problems," said Khan.
Early studies have found the gel form of Tamoxifen stopped cancer cell growth just as well as tamoxifen pills and caused fewer side effects.
It could be several years before the gel is on the market. But early study results are giving it the thumbs up in the fight against some non-invasive cancers.