What is the pathophysiology of breast cancer?

Updated: Dec 27, 2019
  • Author: Pavani Chalasani, MD, MPH; Chief Editor: John V Kiluk, MD, FACS  more...
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Answer

The current understanding of breast cancer etiopathogenesis is that invasive cancers arise through a series of molecular alterations at the cell level. These alterations result in breast epithelial cells with immortal features and uncontrolled growth.

Genomic profiling has demonstrated the presence of discrete breast tumor subtypes with distinct natural histories and clinical behavior. The exact number of disease subtypes and molecular alterations from which these subtypes arise remains to be fully elucidated, but these generally align with the presence or absence of estrogen receptor (ER), progesterone receptor (PR), and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2).

This view of breast cancer--not as a set of stochastic molecular events, but as a limited set of separable diseases of distinct molecular and cellular origins--has altered thinking about breast cancer etiology, type-specific risk factors, and prevention and has had a substantial impact on treatment strategies and breast cancer research.


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