Breast cancer is the most common cause of cancer death in women in this country. Until recently, the traditional treatment has been radical surgery with or without radiation therapy for patients with primary breast cancer, and palliative endocrine therapy followed by chemotherapy for patients with advanced disease. These treatments have met with limited effectiveness in terms of eradicating the disease. Studies in the past decade have given cause for optimism for breast cancer patients. Adjuvant systemic therapy after local treatment appears promising for certain subsets of patients with primary breast cancer. The development of estrogen receptor assays has markedly changed our approach to the disease and improved patient care. Estrogen receptor is an important prognostic factor and is useful in planning appropriate therapy for patients with primary breast cancer as well as those with advanced disease. Further research is urgently needed to improve the dismal survival of certain women with this common malignancy.