Overview of Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is the most common cancer occurring in women, with over 200,000 new cases diagnosed yearly in the United States alone, and it is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women. Breast cancer and benign breast tumors can also rarely occur in men, adolescents and children. Breast cancer consists of a heterogeneous group of diseases, with many different subtypes of both invasive and non-invasive cancers that have different treatment options and prognoses. The diagnosis of breast cancer is increasing, in part due to early detection of disease through imaging such as screening mammography. Many women undergo breast biopsies to evaluate whether a radiologic abnormality is due to a benign or neoplastic (cancerous) process.

Unique Role of Pathologists in Breast Cancer: Clinical Care and Research

Pathologists have an important role in medicine, and nowhere is this more evident than in the care of breast cancer patients. In clinical care, only pathologists make the diagnosis of breast cancer. We determine whether a tumor is benign or malignant. We also determine kinds of proteins the tumor expresses, such as ER and Her2, and our analysis determines whether or not the tumor should be treated with anti-estrogen therapy (like Tamoxifen) or anti-Her2 therapy (like Herceptin). Oncologists and surgeons read our diagnoses and analysis to patients, and generally treat patients based upon standardized protocols for these diagnoses. We are always available to discuss our findings with the patient directly. In research, pathologists study actual human cancers. We study the tumors and tissues that come directly from patients, not from mice (which are not always the same as human tumors) or cell lines artificially grown in culture. Our research has direct impact on patient care, for instance by identifying new targets for therapy and new tools for making accurate diagnoses.

The Johns Hopkins Hospital Department of Pathology

The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions is a leader in the investigative study, diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. We have created this web site to give patients and physicians access to the latest clinical and research developments related to this disease, as well as to the multidisciplinary team of expert pathologists, surgeons, oncologists, radiologists and radiation oncologists assembled here to fight breast cancer.