Breast Cancer Research

Some breast cancers are driven by inherited mutations in genes such as BRCA1 and BRCA2. Most are “sporadic,” driven by unknown causes or by environmental or behavioral factors like obesity, lack of exercise, or alcohol use. Breast cancer has several subtypes. Which include ductal carcinoma in situ, or (DCIS), invasive ductal, lobular carcinoma in situ, or (LCIS), invasive lobular, and inflammatory breast cancers.

Breast cancer is commonly categorized and treated according to its molecular targets or lack thereof. These targets include the estrogen receptor (ER+/-), progesterone receptor (PR), and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2+/-). Triple-negative breast cancer lacks these three targets.


Researchers and Patient Treatments

Dr. Nancy Davidson speaking at a conference

Our Breast Cancer Researchers

Our interdisciplinary scientists and clinicians work together to prevent, diagnose and treat breast cancer as well as other cancers and diseases.

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Patient Treatment & Care

At Fred Hutch, our interdisciplinary teams work together to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer, HIV/AIDS and other diseases. Our aim is to provide patients access to advanced treatment options while getting the best cancer care.

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Breast Cancer Clinical Trials

Clinical research is an essential part of the scientific process that leads to new treatments and better care. Clinical trials can also be a way for patients to get early access to new cutting-edge therapies. Our clinical research teams are running clinical studies on several kinds of breast cancer.

Breast Cancer Research

In 2002, Fred Hutch researchers working on the Women’s Health Initiative identified a major risk factor for lobular breast cancer: hormone replacement therapy. This landmark finding prompted millions of women to stop taking these commonly prescribed drugs, which caused not only breast cancer but also heart disease, stroke and dangerous blood clots. Our researchers continue to explore every aspect of breast cancer, from risk factors to potential cures.

Treatment for breast cancer generally involves a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Anti-hormone drugs are also commonly used with ER+ disease. Fred Hutch researchers are refining these longstanding treatments, where possible, to reduce toxic side effects. Our scientists are also working to develop new targeted therapies and immunotherapies, including vaccines.

Breast cancer research at Fred Hutch is all-encompassing. Our scientists pinpoint new risk factors and improve detection. We delve into the genetic drivers of the disease, finesse current therapies and develop new ones. Our scientists strive to enhance survivorship and patient outcomes. And we work to develop curative therapies for metastasis and reduce the health disparities and global burden of this cancer.

Early Detection, Biomarkers and Screening

Our work in early detection covers a broad spectrum. And it ranges from refining current methods of screening to discovering and validating new biomarkers. It includes the use of community educators and comic books to promote health literacy in underserved populations.

Genetics of the Disease

Our researchers are working to pinpoint the key gene mutations in many cancers, including breast cancer. They seek to understand how these mutations promote the development and progression of tumors.

Risk Factors and Risk Reduction

Our scientists have identified several risk factors for developing breast cancer. These include hormone replacement therapy, alcohol use and poor sleep.

Our epidemiologists have also done extensive research into ways women can reduce their risk. Regular exercise is highly recommended, both for undiagnosed women and survivors of early-stage cancers seeking to avoid metastatic recurrence. Our researchers are investigating how exercise combats the disease by analyzing blood, biomarkers and muscle tissue before and after exercise.

Our scientists are also examining additional risk factors, such as oral contraceptive use, in relation to certain genetic susceptibilities. The goal of these studies is to assess how genes and environmental factors interact to promote breast cancer.

Treating Metastatic Disease

Our researchers are exploring new ways to treat people with stage 4 breast cancer, which currently has no cure. In particular, they are testing whether they can harness the immune system, including using engineered immune cells, studying new targeted therapies and using molecular imaging and analysis to identify which patients may benefit from less-toxic therapies. In addition, our translational researchers are studying both the path of metastasis and the microenvironment of dormant  metastatic cells within bone marrow in order to find ways to prevent future metastasis.

Survivorship and Long-Term Side Effects

Our researchers are working to lessen the collateral damage and long-term side effects of cancer treatment. Their efforts include studying predictors of breast cancer progression and recurrence, how treatments may influence the risk of secondary cancers, and how lifestyle choices may increase quality of life and reduce risk of recurrence. 

Latest Breast Cancer News

See all Breast Cancer News
Cancer care: From ‘sledgehammer’ to precision cellular therapy AACR progress report: new immunotherapies improve outcomes, but access to care and clinical trials for many still lags September 15, 2023
Sleep can be a cancer patient’s best elixir Treatments, stress can be challenges to getting consistent, quality sleep; talk to your doctor if you’re tossing and turning August 17, 2023
Cancer and the LGBTQ+ community From structural barriers and binary patient forms to gendered diseases, ‘queer cancer’ can be fraught with bias and bad assumptions August 3, 2023
Dedicated supporters at the Heart of the Hutch Using creativity and passion to support Fred Hutch research in good times and bad August 2, 2023

Active Research Projects

Acute Effects of Exercise on Breast Cancer Biomarkers (ACE) Study

Public Health Sciences, Epidemiology

The Acute Effects of Exercise on Breast Cancer Biomarkers (ACE Study) is enrolling women to test the effect of moderate intensity exercise on cancer risk factors such as biomarkers in healthy women. Knowing if exercise significantly alters these biomarkers, could help support guidelines for daily exercise for breast cancer prevention and could indicate that exercise even without weight loss is beneficial.

Contact: Jude Warner,

Advancing our Understanding of the Etiologies and Mutational Landscapes of Basal-like, Luminal A, and Luminal B Breast Cancer

Public Health Sciences, Epidemiology

Addressing research gaps in the molecular subtypes of breast cancer, we are taking a multidisciplinary approach to study the epidemiology and mutational landscapes of basal-like, luminal A, and luminal B tumors.

Funding Agency: DOD

Contact: Sarah Taylor,

Breast Cancer Initiative 2.5

Public Health Sciences, Epidemiology

Breast Cancer Initiative 2.5 is uniting the global breast cancer community behind a common goal to make breast health a global priority and reduce disparities in breast cancer outcomes for 2.5 million women by 2025.

Breast Health Global Initiative (BHGI)

Public Health Sciences, Epidemiology

The Breast Health Global Initiative is striving to improve breast health outcomes and access to breast cancer screening, detection and treatment for women in low- and middle-income countries.

Contact: Marisa Hartman, 206.667.3538

Breast, Colorectal and Ovary Cancer Clinical Validation Center

Public Health Sciences, Epidemiology

After identifying early detection biomarkers for each of these cancers, we are conducting phase 2 and phase 3 validation studies directed towards clearly defined clinical applications.

Funding Agency: National Cancer Institute

Contact: Chris Li,

Effect of Weight Loss and Exercise on Biomarkers of Breast Cancer Risk

Public Health Sciences, Epidemiology

Investigators explore microRNAs and their correlation to breast cancer biomarkers, how weight loss affects their relationship to cancer and obesity, and how the genes are expressed in fat tissue.

Funding Agency: Breast Cancer Research Foundation

Contact: Anne McTiernan,

Epidemiology of the Four Most Frequent Cancers Following Breast Cancer (ORCA) Study

Public Health Sciences, Epidemiology

Breast cancer survivors have an increased risk of developing a second primary cancer. Researchers are studying the epidemiologic, clinical, and molecular determinants of the four most common types of second primary cancer diagnosed among breast cancer survivors.

Funding Agency: National Cancer Institute

Contact: Cecilia O'Brien,

Inherited Variation in Tamoxifen Metabolizing Genes and the Effectiveness of Tamoxifen in Treating Breast Cancer

Public Health Sciences, Epidemiology

Scientists are investigating whether inherited variations in key drug-metabolizing genes modify the risk of recurrence and death in breast cancer patients treated with Tamoxifen.

Funding Agency: National Cancer Institute

Contact: Kathi Malone,

Mammographic Density and Risk of Contralateral Breast Cancer

Public Health Sciences, Epidemiology

Researchers are determining whether mammographic density can be used as a risk predictor for contralateral breast cancer and the extent to which breast cancer treatments modify mammographic density.

Funding Agency: National Cancer Institute

Contact: Cecilia O'Brien,

Molecular Pathoepidemiology of Contralateral Breast Cancer

Public Health Sciences, Epidemiology

This study seeks to identify biomarkers in first primary breast tumors that can help predict risk of subsequent contralateral breast cancer.

Funding Agency: National Cancer Institute

Contact: Cecilia O'Brien,