Breast cancer

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Breast cancer is the most frequent malignancy in women worldwide and is curable in ~70–80% of patients with early-stage, non-metastatic disease. Advanced breast cancer with distant organ metastases is considered incurable with currently available therapies. On the molecular level, breast cancer is a heterogeneous disease; molecular features include activation of human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2, encoded by ERBB2), activation of hormone receptors (oestrogen receptor and progesterone receptor) and/or BRCA mutations. Treatment strategies differ according to molecular subtype. Management of breast cancer is multidisciplinary; it includes locoregional (surgery and radiation therapy) and systemic therapy approaches. Systemic therapies include endocrine therapy for hormone receptor-positive disease, chemotherapy, anti-HER2 therapy for HER2-positive disease, bone stabilizing agents, poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase inhibitors for BRCA mutation carriers and, quite recently, immunotherapy. Future therapeutic concepts in breast cancer aim at individualization of therapy as well as at treatment de-escalation and escalation based on tumour biology and early therapy response. Next to further treatment innovations, equal worldwide access to therapeutic advances remains the global challenge in breast cancer care for the future.

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Fig. 1: Breast cancer.
Fig. 2: Molecular mutations in breast cancer.
Fig. 3: Immune crosstalk in breast cancer.
Fig. 4: Breast cancer imaging.
Fig. 5: Breast cancer histological types and molecular alterations.
Fig. 6: Algorithm for early breast cancer.
Fig. 7: Breast-conserving surgery.
Fig. 8: Radiation therapy for breast cancer.
Fig. 9: Common metastatic sites in breast cancer.
Fig. 10: Algorithm for advanced breast cancer.
Fig. 11: Emerging targetable pathways in breast cancer.


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The authors thank N. Radosevic-Robin (Jean Perrin Comprehensive Cancer Centre, France) for her assistance in preparing Fig. 1. N. Houssami receives research support through a National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF, Australia) Breast Cancer Research Leadership Fellowship. K.R. acknowledges research funding from the Clinical and Translational Sciences Award (CTSA) grant number KL2 TR002379 from the National Centre for Advancing Translational Sciences, a component of the US National Institutes of Health.

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Introduction (all authors); Epidemiology (J.T.); Mechanisms/pathophysiology (F.P.-L.); Diagnosis, screening and prevention (N. Houssami); Management (N. Harbeck, F.C., M.G., P.P., J.C. and N. Houssami); Quality of life (K.R.); Outlook (all authors); Overview of the Primer (N. Harbeck and F.C.).

Correspondence to Nadia Harbeck.

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N. Harbeck reports honoraria for lectures and/or consulting from Agendia, Amgen, Astra Zeneca, Celgene, Daiichi-Sankyo, Genomic Health, Lilly, MSD, Novartis, Odonate, Pfizer, Roche, Sandoz/Hexal and Seattle Genetics. F.P.-L. declares personal financial interests in Abbvie, Agendia, Astrazeneca, BMS, Genomic Health, Janssen, Lilly, Merck Lifa, MSD, Myriad, Nanostring, Novartis, Pfizer and Roche; institutional financial interests in Astrazeneca, BMS, Genomic Health, MSD, Myriad, Nanostring and Roche; and congress invitations from Abbvie, Astrazeneca, BMS, MSD and Roche. J.C. has received honoraria from Celgene, Chugai, Eisai, Novartis, Pfizer, Roche and Samsung; has served as a consultant for Astrazeneca, Biothera, Celgene, Daichii Sankyo, Erytech Pharma, Merus, Polyphor, Roche and Seattle Genetics; has received research funding from Ariad, Astrazeneca, Baxalta GMBH, Bayer, Eisai, Guardant Health, Merch Sharp & Dohme, Pfizer, Puma and Roche; and has stocks in MedSIR. M.G. reports honoraria from Amgen, AstraZeneca, Celgene, Eli Lilly, Medison, Nanostring Technologies, Novartis and Roche; advisory fees from Accelsoir; research funding from AstraZeneca, Novartis, Pfizer and Roche; and travel expenses from Amgen, AstraZeneca, Celgene, Eli Lilly, Ipsen, Medison, Novartis and Pfizer. K.R. declares previous ownership of Merck and Pfizer stock (October 2016–February 2018). J.T. reports honoraria and consultancy or advisory roles for AstraZeneca, Astellas, De Novo, Eisai, Foundation Medicine, Nanostring, Novartis, Pfizer and Roche. F.C. declares consultancy roles for Amgen, Astellas/Medivation, AstraZeneca, Celgene, Daiichi-Sankyo, Eisai, Genentech, GE Oncology, GlaxoSmithKline, Macrogenics, Medscape, Merck-Sharp, Merus BV, Mylan, Mundipharma, Novartis, Pfizer, Pierre-Fabre, prIME Oncology, Roche, Sanofi, Seattle Genetics and Teva. The remaining authors declare no competing interests.

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Harbeck, N., Penault-Llorca, F., Cortes, J. et al. Breast cancer. Nat Rev Dis Primers 5, 66 (2019) doi:10.1038/s41572-019-0111-2

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