Breast Cancer Awareness Month

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The pink ribbon is a central symbol for the Breast Cancer Awareness Month (left). Breast cancer may be HER-2 positive (right top) or negative (right bottom). Ribbon image cropped from

This month is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a global effort to promote awareness and support education and research about breast cancer.

The number of people surviving breast cancer has increased in high-income countries since the 2000s. However, breast cancer remains the leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women worldwide. Raising general public awareness and well-functioning health care policies are essential for controlling the disease, according to the World Health Organization.

Breast cancer arises either in the mammary glands or in the tubes that connect these glands to the nipples. Tumor cells may spread from their original location to other parts of the breast tissue and further to other organs. Risk for breast cancer increases with age, inherited changes in the genes BRCA1 and BRCA2, and also due to early monarch, late menopause, and use of hormone replacement therapy or oral contraceptives.

Early detection is essential for decreasing the burden of breast cancer. In many high-income countries, mammography has proven to be an efficient method for finding breast cancer at early stage. In low and middle income countries, early detection is a fundamental concern and solutions that are less resource demanding than mammography are needed.

Also suitable treatment is key for helping people with breast cancer. Most patients will have surgery to remove the tumor. Additional radiation or/and drug therapy might be needed depending on the type of breast cancer and how advanced it is. Drug therapy blocks proteins that drive tumor spread, including HER-2 (ERBB2) and receptors for estrogen and progesterone (ESR1 and PGR, respectively). It is important to know which of these proteins a tumor have in order to choose suitable drugs. Progresses in drug therapy has contributed to increase in survival, however challenges remain. Current treatments fail to benefit patients with certain types of breast cancer and more research is needed to develop new treatment methods in order to help these people.

In the Pathology atlas, we explore proteins in different cancer types and how they are related to patient survival. Breast cancer data are summarised in the breast cancer chapter.

If you are interested in the histology of breast cancer, visit our Dictionary.

Borbala Katona