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One in every seven women in the United States will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. Every 12 minutes breast cancer claims another life, making it the second leading cause of death from cancer in American women. Better diagnostics, treatment and prevention strategies can be developed, but only when the complex nature of breast cancer is understood.  

TGen scientists are working to answer questions like:  

  • Why do some breast cancer patients respond favorably to treatment while others don't?
  • Can we predict ahead of time who will respond to treatment, and what type of treatment will provide maximal benefit for each patient?
  • Why are some families more susceptible to breast cancer than others?
  • What genetic changes cause disease?  

Scientists know that about 5-10 percent of breast cancer can be explained by family inheritance of a genetic alteration. The majority of families with multiple first-degree relatives with breast cancer have mutations in two genes called BRCA1 and BRCA2. The overwhelming majority of breast cancers however, arise with no family history, and 70% of these newly diagnosed patients have no identifiable risk factors for breast cancer.  

In recent years, researchers have confirmed that breast cancer is not one disease, but is actually comprised of several distinct sub-types, that often behave in remarkably similar ways within a sub-type, including response to therapy. Increasing numbers of diagnostic tests are being developed to recognize these sub-types and clinicians are embracing this information to tailor their treatment decisions. 

Dr. Heather Cunliffe, who leads the Breast and Ovarian Cancer Research Unit at TGen, is using advanced technologies which rapidly measure the behavior of tumors at very high resolution, to identify the underlying reasons driving uncontrolled cancer cell growth.  

A main focus of Dr. Cunliffe's research is to characterize breast tumors that share the characteristic of being inherently unresponsive to anti-hormone therapy, or develop resistance to this type of therapy. Importantly, identifying the driver in these breast tumors is likely to also unmask their Achilles' heel, and thus a rationale for development of cancer-targeted therapies. Dr. Cunliffe is also applying similar approaches to identify drivers controlling the movement and spread of invasive breast cancers beyond the primary tumor site, with the goal of developing therapies to block development of metastases.


CANCER PROGRAMS Skip Navigation Links
Adrenocortical Cancer
Brain Tumors
Breast Cancer
Colon Cancer
Liver Cancer
Lung Cancer
Ovarian Cancer
Pancreatic Cancer
Prostate Cancer



TGen's Breast & Ovarian Cancer Research Unit

National Cancer Institute

Your donation in support of Breast Cancer research at TGen is important to furthering the institute's mission to develop earlier diagnoses and smarter treatments for patients.

Volunteer! Become a TGen Ambassador and help raise funds in your community for Breast Cancer research.

To discuss ways to become involved and support cancer research at TGen, contact the TGen Foundation at, or call 602.343.8411.