Receptors for breast cancer

Breast cancer cells often have receptors (proteins) that hormones or other proteins can attach to and stimulate the cancer to grow. A pathologist does tests on the cancer to find out if receptors are present and what type they are. The results help you and your doctor to decide on the most effective treatment for you.

Hormone receptors

Breast cancers with receptors for the hormone oestrogen are called oestrogen-receptor positive or ER positive breast cancer. About 70% of breast cancers are ER positive. They respond well to treatment with hormonal therapies.

Oestrogen-receptor negative or ER negative breast cancers don’t have hormone receptors. ER is used because the American spelling of oestrogen is estrogen.

Protein receptors

Some breast cancers have high numbers of receptors for the protein HER2 (human epidermal growth factor 2). They are called HER2 positive breast cancers. About 1 in 7 women (15%) with early breast cancer have HER2 positive cancer. A drug called trastuzumab (Herceptin®) is an effective treatment for this type of breast cancer.

If the cancer does not have receptors for either HER2 or the hormones oestrogen and progesterone, it is called triple negative breast cancer. It affects up to 1 in 5 women (15–20%) with breast cancer and is more common in younger women. We have more information about triple negative breast cancer.

Back to Understanding your diagnosis

Just been diagnosed

Just been diagnosed with cancer? We're here for you every step of the way. There are many ways we can help.

Staging and grading

Doctors will stage and grade the cancer using further tests. This helps them to choose the most appropriate type of treatment.

Treatment overview

Most women will have surgery to remove the cancer. You may also have other treatments to reduce the risk of it coming back.