Breast Cancer / Rena Rowan Center

Premier Research Program

Penn's NCI approved and funded Breast Cancer Research Program

Program Leaders: Lewis Chodosh, MD, PhD and Angela DeMichele, MD, MSE

Since Penn's discovery of the Philadelphia Chromosome which revolutionized cancer treatment, we've had a history of groundbreaking research.

Every day our scientists learn more about the causes of breast cancer, as well as, better ways to prevent and detect breast cancer. Penn continues to be on the cutting edge of designing novel treatments for breast cancer.

We are at the forefront in a number of areas, all of which can make a difference to patients, today and in the future.

Making History

  • Penn was a pioneer in determining that lumpectomy plus radiation therapy was an alternative to mastectomy for early stage cancer.
  • Penn established one of the first interdisciplinary breast cancer evaluation and treatment services in the country.
  • Penn's Breast Cancer Research Program is one of the few programs of its kind approved and funded by the National Cancer Institute.
  • Penn researchers established the first breast cancer risk program in the country, and we continue to set the standards in this field.
  • Mark Greene, MD, PhD, a senior researcher has deepened our understanding of how the cancer-causing gene called neu oncogene, determined its role in malignancy, and defined the principles that led to the development of the first approved therapy (Herceptin) that targets the proteins of this gene.
  • Penn researchers conducted the landmark study showing that a prophylactic double mastectomy can lower the risk of developing breast cancer in women genetically pre-disposed to the disease.
  • Penn researchers conducted the statistical analysis, showing the value for women with BRCA 1 and 2 mutations in having their ovaries removed at a young age. It cuts breast cancer risk by half, and ovarian cancer risk by 80 percent, presumably by reducing exposure to estrogen.
    • Using tissue fluorescence, Penn researchers have created the first three-dimensional optical images of breast cancer in patients. And have recently completed a study showing the ability of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to detect breast cancers not seen by mammography

Shaping the Future of Cancer Care

Penn's Breast Cancer Research Program is one of the few programs of its kind approved and funded by the National Cancer Institute.

Our research initiatives aimed at breast cancer prevention, risk, diagnosis, and treatment include:

Prevention / Risk

  • Lewis Chodosh, MD, PhD, and Kate Nathanson, MD are mapping the genetic changes that occur in breast cancer among women with no significant family history, women with multiple family members who have breast cancer and African American women who have BRCA1/BRAC2 mutations that may increase susceptibility to breast cancer.
  • Dr. Chodosh's genetics laboratory is studying the biologic effects of pregnancy among women who have children at a younger age to better understand their lower-risk of breast cancer. The goal is to determine if there is a gene or protein activated during pregnancy that prevents breast cancer and then identify a way to use that knowledge to benefit all women.
  • Penn is conducting a first-of-its-kind study that aims to learn whether women at high risk of breast cancer can use exercise to meaningfully reduce their risk of getting the disease.


  • A collaboration of researchers, from the Rena Rowan Breast Center and the Department of Radiology, recently completed a study demonstrating the ability of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to detect breast cancers not seen by mammography.


  • Angela DeMichele,MD, MSE, is studying how genes may effect response to chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer, and has discovered two genetic markers that help predict response to chemotherapy. Understanding genetic make up will help physicians tailor the chemotherapy dose to provide the best benefit and the least side effects.
  • Dr. DeMichele is also studying genetic markers that influence the toxicity of some drugs. This research impacts determining predisposition to early menopause or infertility from taking certain drugs. This knowledge will allow more informed treatment choices.
  • Julia Tchou, MD is studying cancer stem cells, and is working to understand the biology of breast cancer stem cells in order to develop more effective therapies that could eradicate breast cancer.
  • Penn researchers have determined that women with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) who exhibit an overexpression of HER2/neu have a six-fold increase in risk of invasive breast cancer. Knowing this may help clinicians distinguish between DCIS that requires minimal treatment and DCIS that should be treated more aggressively.
  • Researchers from the AFCRI are testing a simple peptide vaccine in advanced breast cancer patients. They hope to expand the use to prevent recurrence in patients treated for early stage breast cancer.
  • In an effort to better understand how to help patients take chemotherapy medications in the most effective way at home, Penn researchers are studying how well patients adhere to oral chemotherapy regimens and the factors that effect non-adherence.
  • Researchers are studying radiation as part of breast cancer treatment plans to maximize cure rates, minimize recurrence, and reduce the long-term cardiac side effects.
  • Faculty are relentlessly advancing the discovery of a breast cancer vaccine.

As one of the nation's largest cancer research centers our investigators benefit each day from collaborations and interactions with over 400 scientists and physicians involved in the Abramson Cancer Center.