Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is the second most common cancer in women (although men can get it too) with more than 250,000 diagnoses and 42,000 deaths each year in the U.S. alone.

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.
 

A breast cancer tissue scan.
A breast cancer tissue scan. Fred Hutch

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

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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.

Risk Factors and Risk Reduction

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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.

Genetics of the Disease

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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.

Treating Metastatic Disease

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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

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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. 

Current Projects

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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, acestudy@fredhutch.org

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, researchers 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, sataylor@fredhutch.org

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, scientists have organized phase 2 and phase 3 validation studies for clearly defined clinical applications.

Funding Agency: National Cancer Institute

Contact: Chris Li, cili@fredhutch.org

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, amctiern@fredhutch.org

Epidemiology of the Four Most Frequent Cancers Following Breast Cancer

Public Health Sciences, Epidemiology

Researchers are studying the epidemiologic, clinical and molecular determinants of the four most common cancers diagnosed after an occurrence of invasive breast cancer.

Funding Agency: National Cancer Institute

Contact: Cecilia O'Brien, cobrien@fredhutch.org

Health, Eating, Activity and Lifestyle (HEAL) Study

Public Health Sciences, Cancer Prevention

This study covered a multiethnic group of breast cancer survivors from western Washington, Los Angeles County, and north-central New Mexico. Within 12 months of a diagnosis, women completed a baseline interview. Two years later, they completed a second interview, with a blood draw, anthropometry, and diet and dietary supplement questionnaires.

Funding Agency: National Cancer Institute

Contact: Diana Lowry, dlowry@fredhutch.org

Mammographic Density and Risk of Contralateral Breast Cancer

Public Health Sciences, Epidemiology

Researchers are determining whether mammographic density can be used as a risk marker for contralateral breast cancer.

Funding Agency: National Cancer Institute

Contact: Cecilia O'Brien, cobrien@fredhutch.org

Molecular Pathoepidemiology of Contralateral Breast Cancer

Public Health Sciences, Epidemiology

Researchers are determining whether mammographic density can be used as a risk marker for contralateral breast cancer.

Funding Agency: National Cancer Institute

Contact: Cecilia O'Brien, cobrien@fredhutch.org

Predictors of Cardiovascular Disease Among Breast Cancer Survivors

Public Health Sciences, Cancer Prevention

The goal of this study is to examine overall cardiovascular disease events in two matched cohorts with and without breast cancer history and test whether breast cancer treatments received or medicatino adherence mediates this relationship.

Funding Agency: National Institutes of Health

Contact: Lisa Levy, llevy@fredhutch.org

QUILT Study: Women's health after breast cancer

Public Health Sciences, Epidemiology

Researchers identify how exposures before and after a breast cancer diagnosis correlate to tumor characteristics and recurrence risks, as well as how biomarkers relate to progression or recurrence across age groups.

Funding Agency: National Cancer Institute

Contact: Cecilia O'Brien, cobrien@fredhutch.org

Tamoxifen, P450 and UGT Enzyme Genetic Variation and Breast Cancer Recurrence/Mortality

Public Health Sciences, Epidemiology

Scientists are attempting to recreate prior research to establish whether variations in key drug-metabolizing genes truly impacts tamoxifen effectiveness.

Funding Agency: National Cancer Institute

Contact: Kathi Malone, kmalone@fredhutch.org

Featured Research

Breast Cancer Initiative 2.5

BCI 2.5 was created to reduce the global disparity in breast cancer outcomes. Our researchers collaborate with partners around the world to assess needs, identify priorities, define strategies and provide the tools, training and technical expertise to improve breast health services and care no matter the resource level of the country.

Selected 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.

 

See All Breast Cancer Clinical Trials

Fred Hutch campus

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.

Meet Our faculty
Seattle Cancer Care Alliance building

Patient Treatment & Care

Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, our clinical care partner, gives patients access to the comprehensive, world-class treatments developed at Fred Hutch.

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A Patient’s Story

Bridgette Hempstead

Bridgette Hempstead

Bridgette began reaching out to other women with breast cancer. After healing, she went on to found Cierra Sisters, an African-American cancer support group that’s been in operation for more than 20 years. She also began working with researchers at Fred Hutch to reduce health disparities in breast cancer and beyond. These days, Bridgette uses her faith and her experiences as a cancer patient to guide and educate others in her community — and across the globe in Africa — about the realities of breast cancer, its treatment and the path to a cure.