What is breast cancer?
Breast cancer is the second most common type of cancer in women. In 2007 (the most recent year for which data is available), 202,964 women in the U.S. were diagnosed with breast cancer and 40,598 women died from the disease, according to the CDC. Approximately 12 percent of women in the general population will develop breast cancer sometime during their lives.
The most common types of breast cancer include ductal carcinoma, which begins in the cells that line the milk ducts of the breast, and lobular ductal carcinoma, which originates in the breast lobes.
A variety of genetic and environmental influences can increase a person’s risk of breast cancer. However, some breast cancers are associated with inherited mutations in a few specific genes. The best known are mutations in the genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 (BRCA stands for breast cancer susceptibility gene), which account for five to 10 percent of all breast cancer cases.
Depending on the type of breast cancer and its progression, treatments can include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormone therapy, or targeted therapy aimed specifically at disrupting the molecular underpinnings of the disease.
Breast cancer research at Sanford-Burnham
Sanford-Burnham is home to one of just seven National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated basic cancer centers in the United States. Researchers in this center aim to preempt cancer before it develops, detect the disease at its earliest point, and eliminate its spread.
Historically, our scientists have made seminal contributions to breast cancer. Kristiina Vuori, M.D., Ph.D., now director of Sanford-Burnham’s Cancer Center, and others published early findings on cellular communication networks in breast cancer cells. John C. Reed, M.D., Ph.D., now Sanford-Burnham’s CEO, and his laboratory made seminal contributions to the understanding of how certain proteins direct programmed cell death (a process called apoptosis) in breast cancer cells and how these proteins allow breast tumors to resist chemotherapy.
While many researchers in Sanford-Burnham’s Cancer Center study cellular growth and lifespan—work that impacts almost every type of cancer—our scientists are also pursuing several strategies for finding new treatments that specifically target breast cancer.
Here are a few current breast cancer studies at Sanford-Burnham: