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Breast Cancer Research Highlights

The American Cancer Society helps people with breast cancer in every community, and is working tirelessly to find ways to end the disease. Thanks to improvements in treatment and early detection, more and more women are surviving this disease. While progress has clearly been made, breast cancer is still the most common cancer in women in the U.S. (behind skin cancer), and the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women.

The Society’s research program has played a role in many advances that help save and extend the lives of women and men with breast cancer. And it invests more in breast cancer research than in any other cancer type. Here’s a look at some of our breast cancer research highlights.

From ACS Researchers

The American Cancer Society employs a staff of full-time researchers who relentlessly pursue the answers that help us understand how to prevent, detect, and treat cancer, including breast cancer.

The Society publishes Cancer Facts & Figures annually and Breast Cancer Facts & Figures every 2 years. These publications combined provide detailed analyses of cancer incidence and mortality trends in the U.S., as well as the latest information on risk factors, early detection, treatment, and current research. Key breast cancer findings include:

  • Death rates from breast cancer among women in the United States dropped 35% from 1990 to 2011.
  • An estimated 40,730 women and 440 men are expected to die of breast cancer in 2015.
  • An estimated 231,840 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed among women in the U.S. during 2015; about 2,350 new cases are expected in men.

The Society’s internal research team is also:

  • Analyzing data on an ongoing basis from Cancer Prevention Study II (CPS-II), which the Society began in 1982, to investigate linkages between lifestyle and breast cancer. For example, using data from CPS-II, American Cancer Society epidemiologists found that women who walk at least 7 hours per week lower their risk of developing breast cancer after menopause. And, data from CPS-II led Senior Epidemiologist Lauren Teras, PhD, to discover that losing 10 or more pounds and keeping it off for at least 5 years might reduce breast cancer risk among postmenopausal women.
  • Conducting a new multi-year cancer prevention study, CPS-3, to better understand ways to prevent cancer, including breast cancer.

ACS-Funded Research and Training Grants in Breast Cancer*

The Society also supports an Extramural Grants program that funds individual investigators engaged in cancer research or training at medical schools, universities, research institutes and hospitals throughout the U.S. Following rigorous and independent peer review, the most innovative research projects are selected for support.

Total ACS grants currently in effect addressing breast cancer: 198
Total ACS grant funding currently committed to breast cancer: $83,493,483

Spotlight on grantees: The following are some of the breast cancer investigators currently being funded by the American Cancer Society who are working to find the answers that will save more lives and better prevent, treat, and manage breast cancer.

close up of test tubes Carlos L. Arteaga, MD, at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, is researching new ways of treating breast cancer patients with the HER2/neu gene who do not respond to or become resistant to existing drugs. By gaining an understanding of how certain breast cancers resist anti-HER2/neu therapies, Arteaga hopes his findings will lead to the development of new combination HER2/neu treatment options for breast cancer patients.



Terry Badger 150x150Terry A. Badger, PhD, RN, FAAN, at the University of Arizona, is designing and testing an intervention aimed at helping improve the quality of life of Hispanics with breast cancer. Latinas have less access to psychosocial programs, and thus tend to suffer disproportionately from the emotional side effects of cancer. Badger’s intervention will help improve the quality of life of Latinas with breast cancer using telephone outreach that also incorporates the patient’s support partner, such as a family member or friend.


close up of dropperNikki Cheng, PhD, at the University of Kansas Medical Center, is researching mechanisms responsible for invasive breast cancer. Specifically, Cheng is investigating whether a protein her lab discovered, called CCL2, plays a role in breast cancer progression and relapse. She hopes this research will lead to the development of new strategies for more effective diagnosis and treatment of invasive breast cancer.



Paraic Kenny Paraic Kenny, PhD, at the Albert Einstein Cancer Center, is exploring how a gene called Amphiregulin may cause a woman with ER+ breast cancer to become resistant to therapies such as tamoxifen and aromatase inhibitors. Approximately 40% of women with such cancer have tumors that ultimately become resistant to these drugs. The Amphiregulin gene gets switched on during puberty and is controlled by estrogen. Kenny’s research has shown that it is required for the growth of human ER+ breast cancer cells, at least in mouse models. He is now developing genetically engineered mouse models that lack the Amphiregulin gene and combining those with mutations frequently seen in human breast cancer cells. The goal is to determine if the mice without the gene still get breast tumors. He believes his findings will increase understanding of the biology that underlies the most common breast cancer subtype and help provide the foundation for new treatments.

Jennifer Koblinski 150x150Jennifer E. Koblinski, PhD, at Northwestern University, is researching brain metastases in breast cancer patients – a late complication, with few treatment options, that affects approximately 10% to 20% of breast cancer patients. She is investigating proteins that may be involved in the spread of breast cancer to the brain. Koblinski believes that identifying these biomarkers will lead to new ways to prevent breast cancer from spreading to the brain.


Sandra McAllister in lab 150x150Sandra McAllister, PhD, at Brigham and Women's Hospital, is studying why and how breast cancer relapses, which occurs in approximately 30% of patients. Her prior research in mice has shown that certain nutrients circulating in the blood stream can cause otherwise dormant cancer cells to form tumors. McAllister discovered that these nutrients appear to be released by tumor cells located in other parts of the body. Her continuing work is investigating this breast cancer “communication system.” She hopes the findings will lead to the development of drugs that can attack these lines of communication between tumors and provide better outcomes for breast cancer patients.

Todd MillerTodd Miller, PhD, at Dartmouth College, is investigating the ongoing problem of anti-estrogen resistance in women with estrogen-receptor-positive (ER+) breast cancer. Specifically, he has been studying the biology of such tumors over time when simultaneously exposed to two types of drugs: anti-estrogens (such as tamoxifen) and experimental P13K inhibitors. Both of these medications block cell signaling pathways that fuel breast cancer cell growth, but they work in different ways. Clinical trials are testing this combination treatment for breast cancer, but results "haven't been terribly impressive" so far, Miller says. His research suggests that the daily dosing schedules being tested, which call for long-term suppression of P13K, may be the culprit. After testing a weekly schedule in mice, he found it still halts the growth of ER+ breast cancer cells and causes the tumors to shrink. (And less frequent dosing could mean fewer side effects.) He believes his findings will help identify the most effective way to use these medicines for the treatment of metastatic ER+ breast cancer.

Chao Hsing Yeh  Chao Hsing Yeh, PhD, of the University of Pittsburgh, wants to know if a non-invasive and inexpensive technique called auricular point acupressure (APA) can help women with breast cancer manage their pain at home. Auricular point acupressure (APA) is drug-free treatment that offers acupuncture-like stimulation to the ear without needles. The World Health Organization has recognized the therapeutic effects of APA, but the technique has not been widely adopted in the U.S. due to a limited understanding of how it works and a lack of high-quality randomized controlled trials. So far, her research has shown that women who perform this treatment at home for 7 days have less breast cancer-related pain, fatigue, and sleeping difficulty. After 4 weeks of treatment, patients had an even greater reduction in pain intensity. With her ACS grant, she plans on demonstrating the changes in patterns and levels of blood biomarkers linked to inflammation (such as a decrease in pro-inflammatory cytokines and an increase in anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-4) that occur during APA treatment. She believes her research will help improve acceptance of APA as an effective strategy to manage pain and other symptoms in women with breast cancer.

*Information current as of August 1, 2015  

Other Ways ACS Fights Breast Cancer

In addition to conducting and funding breast cancer research, the American Cancer Society helps fight breast cancer through education, support services, and advocacy. Explore how the Society helps>