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