Breast Cancer on the Cellular Level

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Breast Cancer at the Cellular Level

There are many different diseases that terrorize the human race every day. Of all of these sicknesses, one of the most devastating is breast cancer. Breast cancer touches all types of people all over the world each day. It is actually the second most common cancer amongst women in the United States. One in every eight women in the United States has some form of breast cancer and currently, the death rates are higher than any other cancer with the exception of lung cancer. Cancer is defined by the Merriam-Webster Online dictionary as “a malignant tumor of potentially unlimited growth that expands locally by invasion and systemically by metastasis.” Therefore, breast cancer is a disease of life-threatening tumors that continue to grow and invade the body, destroying all in its path. Although this is an accurate explanation of what breast cancer actually is, there really is so much more to it. Understanding Breast cancer at the cellular level gives us greater opportunities for treatment development as well as a better insight to what is actually happening in the body when afflicted with breast cancer. It all starts with an alteration to the genetic code of the DNA of the breast cell. This change in the original code is referred to as a mutation. Mutations may occur randomly or they may be caused by substances called mutagens. There are an assortment of different factors that may contribute to the occurrence of mutations other than the errors that happen spontaneously. Environmental and chemical influences are two more common other factors. DNA interacts with the environment constantly, and at times these interactions can effect the DNA in a negative manner. For example, the ultraviolet light rays given off by the sun may react with a person’s DNA and cause mutations to occur in his or her skin cells that may subsequently lead to skin cancer. In the case of breast cancer, ionizing radiation such as cosmic rays, gamma rays, and X-rays are the environmental factors that can cause mutations in the breast cells. The reason for this is that these types of radiation can penetrate tissue much better than ultraviolet light rays and therefore have the ability to spread to other parts of the body, such as the breast tissue. Researchers currently believe that a woman’s predisposition to breast cancer causing mutations due to chemical influences, mainly occur in the womb when the woman’s breast tissue is initially forming. Any hazardous chemical eaten, breathed in or absorbed by the mother may be passed onto the fetus, and since the breast tissue is rapidly growing and developing at this time, it is the time when the woman is actually at the greatest risk of developing mutations due to chemical exposure. Later on in life, these mutations may cause cancer in the breasts of that woman. When a mutation happens, it interferes with the genetic code which produces the signals for specific proteins, and if not caught and corrected by the cell it gets inherited by the new daughter cells and becomes permanent. The proteins carry the instructions for the manner in which the cell is supposed to function. If these instructions have been altered, then the cell will not know what it is supposed to do and may function in now harmful way in the body. Whether or not a cell becomes cancerous, however depends on two regulatory genes known as proto-oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes. The proto-oncogenes are genes that code for a signal for the cell to enter the cell cycle. They also instruct the cell on how long it should stay in the cycle and continue to divide. If these genes are coded incorrectly due to a mutation, they lose the ability to regulate the cell’s activity in the cell cycle. The mutated cell will remain in the cell cycle and continue to reproduce thus forming a tumor. Tumor suppressor genes are in charge of sending the message for the cell to cease cellular division and go through a checkpoint...
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