The promising potential of nanotechnology in breast cancer care

By Alpana Mohta, MD, DNB, FEADV, FIADVL, IFAAD | Medically reviewed by Nitin Chandramouli, MD FACP
Published April 6, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • Approximately 40% of breast cancer patients experience recurrence despite receiving both chemotherapy and immunotherapy.

  • Nanotechnology provides diverse nanoformulations that can prevent cancer cell proliferation, minimize post-chemotherapy metastasis, and enhance breast reconstruction outcomes by making synthetic implant materials more biocompatible.

  • Bioimaging and cancer therapy are likely to be the first to benefit from nanotechnology due to their current advanced and transitional nature.

Breast cancer is a leading cause of mortality among women across the globe. The American Cancer Society predicts that in 2023, there will be 297,790 new breast cancer diagnoses and 43,170 deaths caused by the disease among women in the United States.[]

The cutting-edge field of nanotechnology has the potential to overcome some of the limitations of conventional therapies for this disease and enhance patient outcomes and quality of life.

Limitations of traditional treatments and reconstructions

Conventional chemotherapy attacks both healthy and cancer cells, causing toxicity with side effects like hair loss, mucosal ulcerations, and myelosuppression. 

Many women undergo breast reconstruction after mastectomy for breast cancer. About 85% of these reconstructions are done with implant-based techniques, according to the authors of an article in the Asian Journal of Surgery.[] 

However, this method is frequently plagued with capsular contracture—a condition where a tight, fibrous layer develops around the implant and leads to breast swelling and tenderness. 

Unfortunately, despite treatment with chemotherapy and immunotherapy, up to 40% of breast cancer survivors have a recurrence.[] Recently, implants have been implicated. Researchers publishing in JAMA Surgery found that chronic inflammation around textured implants triggers dormant cancer cells, responsible for breast cancer recurrence.[] 

After being flagged by FDA in 2019, Allergan recalled its BIOCELL textured breast implants due to reports of cancer linked to the implants.[] 

Researchers, physicians, and patients all seek ways to improve chemotherapy's safety profile and to enhance breast reconstruction outcomes following a mastectomy. Is this possible? The answer may lie in an ever-evolving field—nanotechnology.

Harnessing the power of nanotechnology

Nanotechnology is an exciting field of nanoscale materials—including medical devices, diagnostics, and therapeutic agents—that work at a molecular level.

The versatility of nanoparticles in terms of size, materials, and biocompatibility makes them ideal for cancer diagnosis and treatment.

A diverse range of nanoformulations is currently being developed, which include liposomes, nanofibers, nanocapsules, dendrimers, and nanoparticles. Studies have already yielded promising results, producing evidence of their ability to prevent cancer cell proliferation, lessen the risk of recurrence, and minimize the chance of post-chemotherapy metastasis.

Nano-texturization for breast implants 

Nano-texturization can improve breast implants' design and performance using techniques like soft-tissue engineering, which create natural and artificial scaffolds to encourage cell growth and promote tissue regeneration.

The goal is to make synthetic implant materials that behave more like human collagen, and obviate the risk of inflammation and prevent tumor recurrence. Examples include the following, as discussed by the authors of the Asian Journal of Surgery article:

  1. Acellular dermal matrices 

  2. Drug-eluting nanofibers

  3. PLGA (polylactic-co-glycolic acid) implant surfaces

  4. Chemo-releasing magnetic hydrogels

Nanoparticles for targeting breast cancer cells

Nanoparticle-loaded drugs can be equipped with specific properties that target cancer cells, improving treatment efficacy and reducing side effects on healthy cells. 

By encapsulating drugs, advanced gene therapies, or growth factors with nanoparticles, the biological half-life of anticancer drugs can be enhanced, allowing the administration of lower doses without compromising peak efficacy.

Currently, there are several breast cancer nanotherapies that have either received approval from the FDA or are currently undergoing clinical trials. 

As discussed in a review article in Nanomedicine (Lond), and also in the Asian Journal of Surgery, these include nanoparticle albumin-bound drug complex like (nab™) paclitaxel. cytotoxic siRNA, nanoparticle-mediated photothermal ablation (PTA), and calcium phosphosilicate nanoparticles like docetaxel-doped calcium phosphosilicate nanoparticles (CPSNPs).[][]


Nanotheranostics is an amalgamation of nanotechnology, therapy, and diagnostics.[] Examples include combining optical imaging with nanoparticles, such as bioluminescence and fluorescence imaging. These cancer-specific nanoimaging agents are also conjugated with biomolecules or drug molecules, for more specific targeting of cancer cells. 

Researchers have also combined infrared dyes and metal nanoparticles for fluorescence imaging to aid in the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. 

What this means for you

Nanotechnology has the potential to improve diagnostic ability and therapeutic outcomes in breast cancer, leading to enhanced patient survival and quality of life. In reconstructive surgery, nanotechnology has several potential applications, from bioimaging to tissue engineering. The technology can be used to intensify the properties of tissues used for reconstruction, thereby theoretically reducing complications like fibrosis, tumor recurrence, and immune tolerance. The benefits to patients may increase as nanotechnology research continues.

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