Cancer Types | Breast Cancer - National Foundation for Cancer Research

Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide, claiming the lives of hundreds of thousands of women each year. Although it’s rare, men can also be diagnosed with breast cancer. With breast cancer continuing to impact so many people, it’s important to understand the disease and what strides researchers are making.

Key Facts

  • An estimated 300,590 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2023, and an estimated 43,700 deaths will occur.
  • More than 3.8 million breast cancer survivors live in the U.S. today.
  • The lifetime risk of getting breast cancer in the U.S. is about 1 in 8 for women and 1 in 833 for men.
  • Research shows only 5-10% of breast cancers are hereditary.
  • Dense breasts can be 1.5 to 2 times more likely to develop cancer. If you have dense breasts, ask your doctor about extra screening tests, like ultrasound or MRI, to check for tumors that a mammography might have missed.
  • Triple-negative breast cancer differs from other types of invasive breast cancer as they grow and spread faster, have limited treatment options, and a worse prognosis (outcome).
  • A lump isn’t the only sign of breast cancer. Call your doctor if you notice any of the changes shown below.
Source: American Cancer Society’s Cancer Facts & Figures 2023

Signs and Symptoms

A symptom is a change in the body that a person can see and/or feel. A sign is a change that the doctor sees during an examination or on a laboratory test result. If you have any of the symptoms below, it does not mean you have cancer but you should see your doctor or health care professional so that the cause can be found and treated, if needed

  • Swelling of all or part of a breast (even if no lump is felt)
  • Skin dimpling (sometimes looking like an orange peel)
  • Breast or nipple pain
  • Nipple retraction (turning inward)
  • Nipple or breast skin that is red, dry, flaking or thickened 
  • Nipple discharge (other than breast milk)
  • Swollen lymph nodes (Sometimes a breast cancer can spread to lymph nodes under the arm or around the collar bone and cause a lump or swelling there, even before the original tumor in the breast is large enough to be felt.)
  • New lump or mass on breast (can be painless, tender, soft, or round)
Source: American Cancer Society 2023
Breast Cancer Location
survivors in the U.S. today
in 8 women will be diagnosed
times more likely with dense breasts
Pink Breast Cancer Ribbon

Breast Cancer Awareness Month is recognized in October. To help accelerate cures please make a gift today.

Researchers Working on Breast Cancer

Daniel A. Haber, Ph.D.
Daniel A. Haber, M.D., Ph.D.
James P. Basilion, Ph.D.
James P. Basilion, Ph.D.
Xiang-Lei Yang, Ph.D. and Paul Schimmel, Ph.D.
Xiang-Lei Yang, Ph.D. and Paul Schimmel, Ph.D.
Danny R. Welch, Ph.D.
Danny R. Welch, Ph.D.
Dr. Ron DePinho
Ronald A. DePinho, M.D.
susan horwitz
Dr. Susan Horwitz
Dr. Amos B. Smith, III
Dr. Amos B. Smith, III

Related Updates

Breast Cancer Survivors Need to Take Actions to Reduce Their Increased Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

Continued research has resulted in constant treatment improvement that provides more therapeutic options for breast cancer patients. In addition to the standard treatment options, advanced targeted therapy, immunotherapy, and combination therapy have significantly improved breast cancer treatment outcomes.  According to a report from the American Cancer Society, the number of breast cancer deaths in the U.S. has decreased by 42% from 1989 to 2019. This data indicates more patients have survived breast cancer after being treated with advanced therapeutic approaches. Breast Cancer Survivors have an Increased Risk of Developing Cardiovascular Disease Even though more patients survive their breast cancer because of improved outcomes, the risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD) after receiving treatment has become a veritable concern. A recent report published on April 6, 2022 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology revealed that women with breast cancer who received cancer therapies had increased cardiovascular disease events than women without breast cancer.  The study compared data from 13,642 women with invasive breast cancer between 2005 and 2013 with 68,202 women without breast cancer. They found that breast cancer patients who received the chemotherapy drug anthracyclines and/or the anti-HER2 drug trastuzumab had a higher risk of heart failure than the controls.  Also observed was a higher risk of heart failure in breast cancer survivors who had a history of radiation therapy and aromatase inhibitor treatment. Finally, researchers saw elevated risks for stroke, arrhythmia, cardiac arrest, and CVD-related death in breast cancer patients who received cancer treatment.  Taking Action Against Cardiovascular Disease Risk Nearly 90% of breast cancer patients survive at least five years after their initial diagnosis. Even more, there are 3.8 million breast cancer survivors in the United States. Thus, the increased CVD is an issue that impacts millions of individuals and deserves attention.  Typically, increased CVD risk manifests approximately seven years after diagnosis. Doctors and patients should take preventive actions and intervention measures to reduce the excess burden during this critical time frame. Live a Healthy Lifestyle to Reduce CVD Risk Patients need to understand that they shouldn't avoid the treatments after their diagnosis. Immediate and effective treatment is critical to saving their lives. Instead, they should take the following steps to prevent or minimize their cardiac risks.  Develop a plan with their doctors for receiving comprehensive, ongoing follow-up care and monitoring for their cardiovascular risk.  Understand that they could improve their chances of living a long, fulfilling life and reduce their risk of CVD by living a healthy lifestyle. This lifestyle includes exercising regularly, sticking to a healthy diet, and keeping a healthy weight.  Although this study helps doctors and breast cancer survivors realize the effects of cancer treatments on cardiovascular health, further studies are needed to provide guidelines and strategies to prevent treatment-associated CVD and protect the patients during and after the treatments.  Sign up here to receive our monthly e-newsletter and blogs featuring healthy life-related information, stories of inspiration, support resources, cancer prevention tips, and more.  Additional Reads You May Enjoy:  Managing Stress as a Cancer Patient and Survivor 5 Ways Walking Can Reduce Stress and Prevent Illness New Treatment & Renewed Hope for Triple-negative Breast [...]

New Treatment & Renewed Hope for Triple-negative Breast Cancer Patients

Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) is more aggressive and has a worse prognosis than other breast cancers. Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) accounts for about 15-20% of all breast cancers. The word "triple-negative" means laboratory test results for the three treatment targets on cancer cells, namely the estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors, and HER2 proteins, are all negative. TNBC is a more aggressive type of cancer that grows and spreads faster. As the triple-negative cancer cells won't respond well to most therapies, including hormone therapy and targeted therapy, doctors have very few treatment options to control the cancer progress. As a result, TNBC patients tend to spread faster and have a higher recurrence rate and worse prognosis. A New Treatment Option is Now Available On March 11, 2022, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a drug called Olaparib to treat HER2-negative, high-risk early breast cancer. Data from a phase 3 clinical trial of 1,836 patients, of which about 82% had the triple-negative disease, led to the approval. The clinical trial results demonstrated that Olaparib reduced the risk of death by 32%, compared to the placebo. The recent FDA approval brings new hopes to patients with early triple-negative breast cancer since many currently available therapies couldn't effectively control the progression of their cancers. Patients have to do a blood test before receiving Olaparib treatment. Olaparib is a targeted therapy restricted to patients whose breast cancers have specific gene mutations called germline BRCA1/2 mutations. To be eligible for the treatment, patients must have an FDA-approved blood test, or a companion diagnostic test, to confirm the existence of the germline BRCA1/2 mutations before their treatment. Patients without the confirmed mutations couldn't receive the Olaparib treatment as they won't have the treatment benefits from the drug and might experience the drug's harsher side effects. Research Performed Three Decades Ago Enhances Targeted Therapy Today  In 1990, Dr. Mary-Claire King, an assistant professor at UC Berkeley, was the first scientist to demonstrate that a gene on chromosome 17q21, named BRCA1 one year later, was responsible for hereditary early-onset breast cancers. In 1994, Drs. Michael Stratton and Richard Wooster in the UK identified BRCA2. Three decades later, mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes become a critical indication to enhance the targeted therapy with Olaparib. It tells us that converting research discoveries to patient-impacting benefits takes pretty long. We need to continue to support basic research today so that new therapies can continue to save patients' lives in the future. To recognize Dr. Mary-Claire King's fundamental contribution to the genetic understanding of cancer, the National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR) awarded Dr. Mary-Claire King the Szent-Györgyi Prize for Progress in Cancer Research in 2016 in Washington DC. Learn more about this award and Dr. Mary-Claire King's research here. Olaparib offers survival benefits and brings new hopes to patients with early triple-negative breast cancer. As the patients have to be selected by an FDA-approved blood test before the treatment, patients should work with their doctors to determine whether they are eligible for the treatment before receiving the treatment. Sign up here to receive our monthly e-newsletter featuring healthy living information, stories of [...]

Nut-Consumption and Breast Cancer Survival

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among women in the world and, although less common, it can also affect men. An estimated 284,200 new breast cancer cases will be diagnosed in the United States this year, and tragically an estimated 44,130 deaths will occur. While screening and treatment options have become more advanced, it is still important for women to proactively reduce breast cancer risk factors. Thankfully, a team of renowned researchers recently discovered that breast cancer prevention could be as simple as eating a handful of trail mix. Connecting the Dots Researchers from Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the Shanghai Municipal Center of Disease Control and Prevention concluded that nut consumption appeared to be associated with higher survival rates among long-term breast cancer survivors. The researchers suggest emphasizing this finding as a modifiable lifestyle factor in survivor guidelines. The team came to this conclusion after analyzing associations of peanut and tree nut consumption with overall survival (OS) and disease-free survival (DFS) among 3,449 long-term breast cancer survivors aged 20 to 75 years who participated in the Shanghai Breast Cancer Survival Study. Of these participants, 3,148 women reported nut consumption, and 301 women reported no nut consumption. The researchers obtained a detailed dietary assessment, which the women completed at the 5-year post-diagnosis follow-up interview between October 2007 and October 2011. The team converted the consumption of nuts into grams per week and calculated total nut consumption as the sum of intake from peanuts, walnuts, and other nuts. Here’s what they found: Participants who consumed nuts regularly had higher rates of OS and DFS (by 4.7% and 7.9%, respectively) 10 years after diagnosis. There were positive associations of nut consumption with OS and DFS after a dose-response pattern for participants with greater-than-median (17.32 g per week) nut intake compared with non-consumers. The team explained that nuts are a common nutrient-dense food seen in healthy diets. As such, several studies have found nuts to be associated with reduced mortality, particularly mortality due to cardiovascular diseases, in the general population. Previously we knew little on whether the health benefits of nut intake extended to breast cancer survivors, particularly regarding the DFS. The goal of this study was to address this knowledge gap. Which nuts should you be eating? While the study mentions peanuts and walnuts by name, there are a variety of nuts that can offer cancer-fighting benefits. Here’s what experts at National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR) have to say: Brazil nuts contain the richest source of natural selenium, a nutrient that may play a critical role in reducing the risk of certain cancers Walnuts have pedunculagin, a tannin that the body metabolizes into urolithins. Urolithins are compounds that bind to estrogen receptors and may play a role in preventing breast cancer. Related NFCR-Supported Research NFCR-funded researchers also point out that while eating cancer-fighting foods is a great step, there are other essential factors to include to prevent various cancers – including breast cancer. Exercise and regular screening (where applicable) are vital in preventing and treating cancer. Recently, NFCR-funded scientist Dr. Rakesh Jain and his team at Massachusetts General […]