This summary discusses only primary epithelial breast cancers. Rarely, the breast may be involved by other tumors such as lymphomas, sarcomas, or melanomas. (Refer to the PDQ summaries on Adult Hodgkin Lymphoma Treatment, Adult Soft Tissue Sarcoma Treatment, and Melanoma Treatment for more information.)
Note: Some citations in the text of this section are followed by a level of evidence. The PDQ editorial boards use a formal ranking system to help the reader judge the strength of evidence linked to the reported results of a therapeutic strategy. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Levels of Evidence for more information.)
In April 2002, when the doctor told us my wife, Chris, had breast cancer, the first two words out of my mouth were "Oh" and a four-letter word. I felt shock and disbelief -- that this kind of thing happens to other people, not to us. I had no idea how I would handle this -- do all the caregiving, plus make a living. Right away, my attitude was, "It's her job to get better, and it's my job to do everything else." But it still seemed impossible.
As it turned out, Chris had stage 3 breast cancer and...
Estimated new cases and deaths from breast cancer (women only) in the United States in 2011:
New cases: 230,480.
Genetic Characteristics and Risk Factors
Several well-established factors have been associated with an increased risk of breast cancer, including family history, nulliparity, early menarche, advanced age, and a personal history of breastcancer (in situ or invasive).
Age-specific risk estimates are available to help counsel and design screening strategies for women with a family history of breast cancer.[2,3] Of all women with breast cancer, 5% to 10% may have a germ-line mutation of the genes BRCA1 and BRCA2. Specific mutations of BRCA1 and BRCA2 are more common in women of Jewish ancestry. The estimated lifetime risk of developing breast cancer for women with BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations is 40% to 85%. Carriers with a history of breast cancer have an increased risk of contralateral disease that may be as great as 5% per year. Ma le carriers of BRCA2 mutations are also at increased risk for breast cancer.
Mutations in either the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene also confer an increased risk of ovarian cancer.[7,8,9] In addition, mutation carriers may be at increased risk of other primary cancers.[7,9] Genetic testing is available to detect mutations in members of high-risk families.[10,11,12,13,14] Such individuals should first be referred for counseling. (Refer to the PDQ summaries on Genetics of Breast and Ovarian Cancer; Breast Cancer Prevention; and Breast Cancer Screening for more information.)
Clinical trials have established that screening with mammography, with or without clinical breast examination, may decrease breast cancer mortality. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Breast Cancer Screening for more information.)
Patient management following initial suspicion of breast cancer generally includes confirmation of the diagnosis, evaluation of stage of disease, and selection of therapy. At the time the tumor tissue is surgically removed, estrogen receptor (ER) and progesterone receptor (PR) status should be determined.
Prognostic and Predictive Factors
Breast cancer is commonly treated by various combinations of surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and hormone therapy. Prognosis and selection of therapy may be influenced by the following clinical and pathology features (based on conventional histology and immunohistochemistry):
The age and menopausal status of the patient.
The stage of the disease.
The histologic and nuclear grade of the primary tumor.
The ER and PR status of the tumor.
Human epidermal growth factor type 2 receptor (HER2/neu) overexpression.