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Breast Cancer (Facts, Stages) (cont.)

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What research is being performed on breast cancer?

Breast cancer remains an area of active ongoing research into all aspects of diagnosis and management. Research studies to better characterize and classify breast tumors at the time of diagnosis by studying tumor markers -- genes or proteins that are expressed differently in tumors -- can help determine what type of therapy will be most effective for an individual patient. For example, hormone receptors and HER2 are known tumor markers for breast cancer that help guide treatment decisions.

Clinical trials are always ongoing to test new treatment regimens and to determine the appropriate length of treatment. Studies are also ongoing to test which types of radiation therapy and which schedules for radiation therapy are most effective. Other studies are focused on discovering the optimal length of treatment with hormone therapy and the optimum drug choices for hormone therapy in pre- and postmenopausal women. New drugs and new targeted therapies are under investigation as well.

Can breast cancer be prevented?

Like any disease, breast cancer can only be prevented to the extent to which controllable risk factors can be prevented or minimized. Many risk factors such as age, gender, and family history, cannot be minimized. It is also unclear which combination of genetic and environmental factors is the precise cause of a breast cancer, so it is impossible to take measures that will completely prevent breast cancer. Even having a mastectomy to prevent breast cancer is not 100% effective, since cancers can arise in small areas of breast tissue that remain after surgery.

It is possible, however, take steps to minimize one's risk of dying of breast cancer by following recommended screening programs to increase the chance that a cancer will be detected early, in its curable stages. Women at higher risk for breast cancer, such as women with a strong family history of the condition or women who have inherited genetic mutations that raise their risk of breast cancer, should decide on an appropriate screening program with their health-care professional.

Some women at high risk for developing breast cancer may take preventive medications. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the use of tamoxifen, a drug typically used in hormone therapy for ER-positive breast cancers, for primary prevention in women at high risk for developing breast cancer. But there is no evidence to suggest that taking tamoxifen can reduce breast cancer incidence in women considered to have a normal risk for the development of breast cancer. Raloxifene (Evista) is another drug that may be used in high-risk postmenopausal women for the prevention of breast cancer.

Some women at high risk for breast cancer choose to undergo preventive mastectomy, sometimes known as prophylactic mastectomy, to reduce their chance of developing the disease. Removal of the ovaries to decrease estrogen production is sometimes done as well. Women should carefully discuss the risks and benefits of this option with their doctors and understand their risk of breast cancer before considering this form of treatment.


American Cancer Society. "Breast Cancer Overview." <>.

Stopeck, Alison T. "Breast Cancer." Sept. 16, 2014. <>.

United States. National Cancer Institute. "Breast Cancer." Sept. 26, 2012. <>.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/29/2014


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