The therapy of early breast cancer has been changing during the last decennium. It requires a multi-disciplinary approach and in each of these disciplines improvements have been implemented. The result is that treatment schedules can now be adapted to specific subgroups. In this review early breast cancer is defined as operable disease, using the critera set out by Haagensen. Emphasis is given to describing the new developments in prognostic criteria, since these form the basis for creating subgroups for specific treatment schedules. Distinction is made between the factors relating to growth rate and those relating to metastatic potential. Data on screening promises a beneficial effect of the implementation of screening in national health care programs. Important shifts are seen in treatment schedules; the place of postoperative radiotherapy after classic ablative treatment is being challenged, whereas it plays a major role in the new breast conserving therapy schedules. The data mentioned in the review suggest that a large proportion of 'operable' cases can be treated with breast conservation but details in the technique of breast conserving therapy are still under investigation. They form a major part of the coming prospective studies in breast cancer. Improvements in reconstruction techniques, creating better cosmetic results, make reconstruction more competitive with breast conserving therapy. The use of chemotherapy and endocrine manipulation in early breast cancer has now been clearly confirmed by the overview technique by the Peto-group, thanks to all efforts of individual trialists together.