Breast Cancer

Expert Care and Treatment for Breast Cancers

The Breast Oncology Program at the Susan F. Smith Center for Women's Cancers includes specialists who provide medical oncology, surgical options, breast reconstruction, and radiation therapy.

Your care team will collaborate to develop a comprehensive, personalized treatment plan that offers the most advanced therapies and an array of supportive resources.

Breast Oncology Program

What Is Breast Cancer?

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. 

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). 

Center for BRCA and Related Genes

Mutations in BRCA1, BRCA2, and BRCA-related genes confer increased risk of certain cancers when inherited. These mutations can also be acquired by the cancers themselves. The Center for BRCA and Related Genes provides comprehensive care for patients with inherited and acquired mutations, including clinical therapeutic trials, trials of risk-reducing strategies, and studies of novel early detection markers.

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 Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center 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. 

Learn more about our specialized Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS) Program

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 trastuzumab. 

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

Clinical Trials Questions?


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 Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center 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 Cancer Center created specialty programs designed specifically for individuals with metastatic breast cancer, young adults with breast cancer, inflammatory breast cancer, breast cancer during pregnancyindividuals with higher genetic riskbreast cancer in men, and ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS)

Why Choose Us

At the Susan F. Smith Center for Women's Cancers Breast Oncology Program, at Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center, our team of experts work 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. 

We provide comprehensive services to patients with these cancers, including:  

  • Personalized treatment plans based on your needs and the details of your specific cancer, along with the latest and most advanced care possible 
  • 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 adults 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 physiologists 
  • Access to fertility specialists who have unique expertise in providing care to women who are battling cancer and have concerns about future fertility 
  • Access to clinical trials available for all stages and subtypes of breast cancer, with an average of 50 clinical trials available at all times for all stages of breast cancer 
  • Multidisciplinary care delivered by specialists from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham and Women’s Hospital