Breast Cancer

_Breast Cancer _



In the United States in 1999 alone, an estimated 43,700 people will die from

breast cancer. It is the number two cancer killer among females ages 15 to
54.

On average if a woman gets this disease, their life expectancy drops

drastically. This cancer is within the top three cancers of all women above

the age of 15, and comprises a great amount of all health care costs in the

U.S. totaling an astounding 37 billion dollars a year in direct medical
costs.

An average woman is said to have a one in nine chance of getting the cancer,

but if that person had family history of the disease, his or her chances have

been measured up to a one in six chance. Sixty-nine percent of

African-American women survive from it, and there are predicted to be nearly

two million new cases reported this year in the U.S. (Breast Cancer Key

Statistics)

Breast cancer is a group of rapidly reproducing,

undifferentiated cells in the area of the breast in men and women. The

earliest changes occur in the epithelial cells of the terminal end buds (TEB)

of the breast milk ductal system. While the progressive steps of breast
cancer

are unknown, the cells in the breast trigger a reaction of cell reproduction.

These new cancer cells form tumors. If cancer cells are active or are

considered malign, the tumor grows at tremendous speeds, and may end up in

metastasis. Metastasis is a complex process in which cells break away from

their primary tumors, and via the blood supply or through the lymph system

relocate into other organs, thus spreading cancer throughout the body.

Generally, if a lump is smaller than one centimeter, it is considered benign,

although every woman should consult her doctor about any unusual bumps or

feeling in the chest. One sign of breast cancer results from ductal cancer in

the breast. A once hollow open tube could be completely clogged up with

cancerous cells leaving an awkward feeling in the chest area. Other

complications that result from this cancer and others are the clogging and

cramming of the system (American Cancer Society, 1999: 10)

Recently genes

have been named as a great cause of cancer. It now is thought in the medical

community that while there are definite environmental contributors to cancer,

even those people who are exposed to few carcinogens may suffer from disease

that runs in their families. Among the genes that are being heavily
researched

is the gene BRCA1 (Case Studies). In one of the preliminary studies of this

particular gene, over 250 Jewish women were discovered to have mutations in

this germ-line allele, which is a version of the trait that is passed to the

offspring through the germ line cell (or gamete). This accounts for

approximately 13% of all breast cancer patients observed. Jewish women in

specific were used, as early on there was a definite pattern of breast cancer

through the Jewish community especially that which lived in the United
States.

The specific mutation, 185delAG, was, "strongly associated with the
onset of

breast cancer in Jewish women before the age of 30." Scientists advanced
upon

this new information of genealogical interplay, so the "New England
Journal of

Medicine" (NEJM) set out determined to study the overall effects of
these

genes. In an article printed on January 18, 1996, germ-line alterations in

BRCA1 were discovered in six of the 80 women surveyed who had breast cancer

but had no apparent familial history of it. Thus the scientists concluded
that

mutation was not limited to women with a history of cancer. Genes are thought

to cause five to twenty percent of all breast cancers. A gene known as p53

supposedly stalls reproduction of cells, and can even cause a cell to
"commit

suicide". Other genes that seem to accelerate growth to overtake and
stick to

proteins include HER2, neu, and erB2 (Fitzgerald et al, 1996). The relation

between serum estrogen levels at a single time is linked to breast cancer,
but

no evidence links estrogen levels over an extended time to the risk of breast

cancer. This what was thought until researchers at the "New England
Journal of

Medicine" proposed a study. Bone mass is a cumulative effect of estrogen
on

bones scientists say, and so the study focused on the more easily observed

density and mass of bone tissue in women. Four levels were studied, and the

research was tallied. The risk for getting cancer in the lowest stage of bone

mass was about 2%, and then 2.6, 2.7, and 7.0 in the second, third, and
fourth

levels of higher mass respectively. This research lent itself to the

assumption that cumulative exposure to estrogen might play a part in breast

cancer