Adoption of urbanised lifestyles together with changes in reproductive behaviour might partly underlie the continued rise in worldwide incidence of breast cancer. Widespread mammographic screening and effective systemic therapies have led to a stage shift at presentation and mortality reductions in the past two decades. Loco-regional control of the disease seems to affect long-term survival, and attention to surgical margins together with improved radiotherapy techniques could further contribute to mortality gains. Developments in oncoplastic surgery and partial-breast reconstruction have improved cosmetic outcomes after breast-conservation surgery. Optimum approaches for delivering chest-wall radiotherapy in the context of immediate breast reconstruction present special challenges. Accurate methods for intraoperative assessment of sentinel lymph nodes remain a clinical priority. Clinical trials are investigating combinatorial therapies that use novel agents targeting growth factor receptors, signal transduction pathways, and tumour angiogenesis. Gene-expression profiling offers the potential to provide accurate prognostic and predictive information, with selection of best possible therapy for individuals and avoidance of overtreatment and undertreatment of patients with conventional chemotherapy. Short-term presurgical studies in the neoadjuvant setting allow monitoring of proliferative indices, and changes in gene-expression patterns can be predictive of response to therapies and long-term outcome.
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