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7 Breast Cancer Research Success Stories

For American women, breast cancer is one of the most common cancers, with 1 in 8 developing it in their lifetime. However, largely due to research discoveries, breast cancer in women declined in the early 2000s – after increasing for years. In addition, more women who do get breast cancer are now surviving it.

woman getting a mammogram in 1973

The American Cancer Society itself has played a role in nearly every major breast cancer research breakthrough in recent history, including establishing mammography as the standard for breast cancer screening, discovering lifesaving treatments, and better understanding factors that can reduce the risk of getting breast cancer.

These are the stories of 7 American Cancer Society-supported pioneers in breast cancer research who laid the foundation for breast cancer treatments that are saving lives today:

1950s: Stanley Cohen, Ph.D., discovered the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), which is linked to cell growth and multiple cancer types. Studies are currently under way to see if anti-EGFR drugs that are already used to treat other types of cancers, such as Erbitux (cetuximab) and Tarceva (erlotinib), might also work against breast cancer. Cohen was later awarded a Nobel Prize for his work.

1974: V. Craig Jordan, Ph.D., showed that tamoxifen could prevent breast cancer in rats by binding to the estrogen receptor. Tamoxifen was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treating estrogen receptor positive breast cancer in 1978.

1978: Bernard Fisher, MD, Richard Love, MD, and V. Craig Jordan, Ph.D., developed and carried out the first trial of tamoxifen to prevent recurrence in breast cancer survivors.

1979: Arnold Levine, MD, discovered the p53 protein, later shown to be a tumor suppressor gene, mutated in more than half of all cancers, including breast cancer.

1988: Dennis Slamon, MD, discovered that the her2/neu growth factor receptor is overexpressed in 15-30% of breast cancers, and is an unfavorable prognostic feature. Slamon went on to develop Herceptin (trastuzumab), which is used today to treat thousands of women with breast cancer.

1998: Bernard Fisher, MD, reported that tamoxifen reduces the incidence of breast cancer by 49% in high-risk women.

2001Walt Disney-American Cancer Society Research Professor for Breast Cancer Mary-Claire King, Ph.D., along with past Society grantee Bernard Fischer, MD, reported that tamoxifen prevents recurrence of breast cancer in BRCA2 but not BRCA1 patients.