Skip Navigation

Breast Cancer Overview

  • Breast Cancer Overview

    Kristen Collins was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer at age 40 and underwent aggressive treatments at the Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers.*

  • *Learn more about Kristen’s story.
  • At the Susan F. Smith Center for Women's Cancers Breast Oncology Program at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center (DF/BWCC), our team of experts works together to provide compassionate and comprehensive care for patients with breast cancer. We are committed to providing every patient with the best and most personalized treatment options available, taking advantage of the full range of services of a top-ranked cancer hospital and research center.

    Exceptional Care for Patients with Breast Cancer

    • Extensive experience in diagnosing and managing even the most complicated cases.
    • Compassionate and experienced clinicians. Our doctors and nurses specialize in breast cancer care, drawing on the latest discoveries to provide highly advanced patient care.
    • Personalized treatment plans based on you, your needs, and the details of your specific cancer situation.
    • The latest and most advanced care possible. Our teams have developed approaches that are changing the way doctors are caring for patients around the world.
    • An average of 50 clinical trials available at all times for all stages of breast cancer.
    • Tissue-preserving procedures and precise surgical and radiation therapy techniques that provide the best results possible. We also are leaders in breast reconstruction.
    • Specialty care designed specifically for young women with breast cancer, women with inflammatory breast cancer, and women with hereditary breast cancer. These are model programs being replicated around the country.
    • Expert symptom management teams to help you feel better throughout your treatment.
    • Genetic evaluation for patients who have a personal or family history that suggests an inherited risk of or tendency to develop breast cancer.
    • Access to social workers, psychiatry, integrative therapies, pain specialists, nutritionists and exercise physiologist.
    • Access to fertility specialists who have unique expertise in providing care to women who are battling cancer and have concerns about future fertility.
  • Breast cancer, a disease that often begins in the lobules or ducts of breast tissue, is the most common type of cancer among women in the United States (other than skin cancer). In 2013, nearly 233,000 American women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. While breast cancer affects mostly women, men can also develop the disease.

    The identification of various subtypes of breast cancer has made it possible to personalize treatment according to the tumor type, stage of disease, and the patient's overall health and preferences. Physicians have a better understanding of which patients are likely to benefit from a particular treatment, and can deliver chemotherapy, radiation therapy and/or surgery much more precisely.

    anatomy of the breast  

    Risk factors for breast cancer

    Risk factors for breast cancer include but are not limited to the following:

    • Being female (about 100 times more women than men develop breast cancer).
    • Older age (the risk of breast cancer rises with age).
    • Ethnicity (Caucasian women are at slightly higher risk of developing breast cancer than are African American or Asian women, but African American women are at higher risk of developing triple-negative breast cancer, a specific subtype of the disease).
    • History of breast cancer or prior treatment with radiation therapy to the breast/chest in childhood or early adulthood.
    • Consuming more than two alcoholic drinks per day on a regular basis.
    • Dense breast tissue (women with dense as opposed to fatty breast tissue are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer).
    • Early menstruation or late menopause.
    • Exposure to certain drugs, including DES, Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) and certain other medications.
    • History of lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS), atypical ductal or lobular hyperplasia and other specific conditions identified on breast biopsies (these non-cancerous conditions can suggest a higher risk of developing breast cancer).

    Genetic and inherited risk factors

    In addition to risk factors associated with lifestyle and environmental exposures, there are breast cancer risk factors that cluster in families. Certain genetic markers have been identified which, if present, may significantly increase your personal risk of breast cancer. The Dana-Farber Cancer Genetics and Prevention Program is a nationally recognized program focused on assessing genetic risk factors associated with breast cancer and designing individualized plans for managing hereditary and familial breast cancer risk. Genetic testing analyzing the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes and other breast cancer-associated genes is performed, as appropriate. Find out more about our services to help individuals at higher risk for breast cancer.

    Stages of breast cancer

    We provide personalized treatment plans based on you, your needs, and your specific type of cancer. Current research and care focuses on the four major subtypes of breast cancer. Lab analysis can determine which subtype of breast cancer you have:

    • Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS)
      Also known as pre-invasive breast cancer, DCIS is very treatable and highly curable. In DCIS, abnormal cells are found in the lining of a breast duct but have not spread outside the duct to other tissues in the breast.

      DCIS is diagnosed in nearly 60,000 women in the United States each year, a significant increase over previous decades, due to the widespread use of digital mammograms and MRIs, which detect DCIS at a smaller, earlier stage. When surgically removed with lumpectomy and usually followed by radiation or a mastectomy with reconstruction, the disease is nearly always curable.

      Research from DF/BWCC scientists may lead to screening tests to better understand whether some patients with DCIS might be able to safely receive less treatment and which patients might benefit from more aggressive treatment.

    • Invasive breast cancer
      Invasive cancers have started to break through normal breast tissue barriers and have the potential to spread to lymph nodes or other parts of the body. There are nearly 233,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer in women each year.

      Biologically, breast cancer is not a single disease but actually several different diseases, which can act differently depending on their distinctive genetic makeup. Invasive breast cancer is categorized as stage I, II, III, or IV, depending on the amount and location of cancer in the body. Treatment plans for any stage of breast cancer include a multidisciplinary approach, and may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy/endocrine therapy, and/or targeted biologic therapy, such as trastazumab.

      • Inflammatory breast cancer
        With inflammatory breast cancer (IBC), cancer cells block the lymph vessels of the skin of the breast, causing the breast to appear red or inflamed. Unlike other types of breast cancer, IBC generally does not present with a lump.

        If you experience any of these symptoms, contact your physician immediately. IBC is typically diagnosed through a clinical exam, and confirmed with a breast biopsy. Prompt and accurate diagnosis and treatment is important because of the aggressive nature of the disease. The treatment starts with systemic therapy (chemotherapy and targeted therapy), followed by surgery and then radiation therapy.

        Learn more about our specialized Inflammatory Breast Cancer Program.

      • Metastatic breast cancer
        Metastatic breast cancer has spread from the breast to other distant parts of the body. Surgery is less commonly part of the treatment plan, but may be included in some circumstances.

        Many encouraging clinical trials at DF/BWCC are focused on finding new and more effective treatments for women with metastatic breast cancer. A study, called Ending Metastatic Breast Cancer for Everyone (EMBRACE), which seeks to learn more about the biology of advanced breast cancer, as well as the treatment experiences of patients living with it.

        Learn more about clinical trials for metastatic breast cancer.

        Learn more about metastatic breast cancer.


    Specialized programs

    Recognizing that not all breast cancer patients have the same needs, Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center created specialty programs designed specifically for individuals with metastatic breast cancer, young women with breast cancer, inflammatory breast cancer, breast cancer during pregnancy, individuals with higher genetic risk, and male breast cancer.

  • More Information

    patient and technician

    Becoming a Patient

    As a new Dana-Farber patient, find answers to questions about your first visit: what to bring, how to find us, where to park, and how to prepare.

    cover supportive resources brochure

    Support Services and Amenities

    We offer a wide range of services, from financial planning to creative arts to spiritual counsel, to support our patients through their cancer experiences.

    patient ratings pie chart

    How Our Breast Cancer Patients Rate Dana-Farber

    Take a look at our patient satisfaction survey results for our patients treated for breast cancer.
    healthy smoothies

    Eating Well During Cancer Video Series

    This video series and resource toolkit features Dana-Farber nutrition specialist Stacy Kennedy, MPH, RD, CSO, LDN, and explores how diet can help support your health and wellbeing during and after cancer treatment.
    Doctors discuss patient results

    Live Video Webchat Series

    Our physicians have pioneered research discoveries that have changed the way doctors care for patients around the world. Learn more about these latest advances in our live video webchat series.

    Dana-Farber Nutrition App logo

    Free Nutrition App

    Download Dana-Farber's free Ask the Nutritionist: Recipes for Fighting Cancer app that provides recipes and nutrition information that can be searched by cancer patients and others in accordance with their needs.