Hubble Tech Detects Science Writer’s Breast Cancer

I remember thinking to myself,
“God I hope I never need this technology.” [slightly tense
music] A Hubble science writer’s
personal experience with a life-saving Hubble
technology spinoff In 1997 the astronauts
will be going back to the Hubble Space Telescope. One of their
jobs will be to insert a new generation instrument called the
Space Telescope Imaging Spectograph. This instrument
contains highly advanced new digital imaging technology and
this same technology developed especially for Hubble is as we
speak being used in clinics and hospitals across this country in
a new breast biopsy system in a high-tech war on breast cancer.
My name is Ann Jenkins, I’m a science writer on Hubble Space
Telescope. This was one of the first stories I worked on as a
full-time science writer. The way it came about was I was
asked to document Hubble spinoffs, technology that was
originally developed for Hubble that was being used on Earth.
The new technology involved seeing into the breast tissue
from two different angles and pinpointing the suspicious
tissue and then bringing a small needle into the tissue to take
out a portion of the suspicious tissue to be biopsied. So this
saved the patient an open surgical incision, which was the
way biopsies had been done previously. When I was first
researching and writing about the technology, I thought, “Well
this is amazing. You know, the patient is going to have so much
less pain and so much less recovery time.” And then we did
a video a couple of months after the press release came out. When
we went to the hospital, it was to interview the doctor who had
been doing stereotactic breast biopsies, it was a very new
technology back then, there weren’t very many machines in
the area. And we saw the machine and I think the producer of the
video or maybe it was me who said, “Boy it would be nice if
we had a patient.” And then somebody looked at me and I
said, “Okay, I’ll be the patient.” While I was on the
table actually pretending to get a stereotactic breast biopsy, I
remember thinking to myself, “God I hope I never need this
technology.”>>Doctor’s offscreen voice: And when I fire
the gun you’re going to feel a little pinch. [sound of the
needle shooting out] Okay. How was that?>>Ann: I thought about
the technology a lot since working on the video and doing
the press release. It was one of our most successful spinoff
stories. And last year I had a routine mammogram. I’ve had
routine mammograms for a number of years now, and I was called
back. I didn’t think much of it because I’d been called back
twice before and it never amounted to anything. But this
time when I was called back the radiologist read the second
mammogram in real time and said, “You’ve got four little dots all
in a line and they’re very suspicious. You need to get a
biopsy.” When I found out I needed to get a stereotactic
breast biopsy, the doctor, the radiologist who first told me
was amazed that I knew what it was, and then I told him the
story of why I knew what it was, and that was because I had done
the research and written the press release and done the video
on it so many years earlier. Having researched the
technology, I think that made me a lot less nervous going into
the procedure. I knew what it was, and it actually performed
as advertised. It was extremely easy for me, I didn’t have much
pain, I had a fast recovery time, and I was very grateful
that I didn’t have to be put under and intubated and have an
open surgical incision. If you have to have cancer, this was
the best kind. It was caught extremely early, the procedure
that I had was very conservative, I didn’t even have
to have chemo. I had the surgery, I had radiation, and
now I’m on a drug for the next five or ten years. I will always
be an advocate for getting your mammograms early and often. I’ve
been a big fan of space technology ever since I was a
toddler. I actually have a scar on my chin from Apollo 13 from
when the capsule splashed down and I jumped up and the throw
rug slipped out from under me and I gashed my chin and had to
get stitches. So I’ve been a big fan all my life. I’ve worked on
Hubble pretty much my whole adult life. I’m of course very
fond of Hubble, it’s an amazing machine, and I am in awe of what
it’s done for humanity and also the technology spinoffs that
have been brought down to Earth that help people here on Earth
in ways that we never even expected when the technology was
originally developed for Hubble.

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