Breast cancer is a type of cancer where the proliferation of malignant cells begins in the mammary glands. It is one of the most widespread types of cancer in women. Every year close to 270,000 women are diagnosed with cancer, where breast cancer accounts for approximately 30% of all cancer cases, according to the American Cancer Society. While breast cancer is mostly seen in women, even men can get diagnosed with it.
Also Read: Breast Cancer Awareness Month 2021: Guidelines For Early Screening And Detection
What Causes Breast Cancer?
Just like any other form of cancer, the exact cause of breast cancer is still unknown. But various scientific studies conclude that it chiefly occurs when there are certain mutations in the genetic code of a healthy cell within the breast that trigger it to go rogue and behave abnormally. These cells grow in both size and number without dying and amassing to form a lump or mass. These metastatic cells may spread (metastasize) through the breast to the lymph nodes or other parts of your body and spread throughout.
What Are The Risk Factors Of Breast Cancer?
A risk factor for breast cancer is anything that makes one more likely to get breast cancer. But, then again having one or even numerous breast cancer risk factors doesn't necessarily mean one will develop breast cancer. Some of these common risk factors include:
- Being female
- Growing age
- A personal history of breast cancer or other breast-related conditions
- A family history of breast carcinoma
- Inherited genes that aggravate the chance of cancer
- Exposure to radiation
- Onset of menstrual cycle at a younger age
- Onset of menopause at an older age
- Conceiving the first child at an older age
- Having never conceived
- Having never breastfed
- Going through postmenopausal hormone therapy
- Consumption of alcohol
While some of these risk factors are in our hands and we can control them by adopting a healthier lifestyle, eating healthy, sleeping on time, exercising regularly and avoiding tobacco and alcohol, others are out of your hands and you cannot alter them.
Read on to know more about how an inherited mutation in the BRCA1 AND BRCA2 genes makes a person susceptible to breast cancer.
So, What Are Genes?
Just like a cell is the fundamental unit of the human body, similarly, genes form an integral part of each cell. They are composed of blueprints (genetic code) for the body.
For an instance, it mainly contains information that indicates the colour of a person’s hair or eyes. They also comprise data that affects how the cells in our body grow, divide and eventually perish.
The information in the genes is passed on (inherited) from one’s mother and father to the children.
What Are Inherited Genetic Mutations?
Mutations are defined as certain changes in the genetic code of the cell that chiefly affect the functioning of the genes.
Just like the other information in the genes, even mutations can be passed on from a parent to a child and are known as Inherited gene mutations or germline mutations.
An individual gets half the genes from the mother and half from the father. So, for example, if the mother has a BRCA1 gene mutation, there’s a 50 per cent chance, her child will also have a BRCA1 mutation.
Also read: Breast Cancer Awareness Month 2022: Breast Self-Exam. The Step-By-Step Guide And Tips
How Does The Mutation Of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 Gene Pose A Threat To Breast Cancer?
In general, genetic changes or mutations in two specific genes can aggravate the risk of getting breast cancer.
These genes, termed BRCA1 and BRCA2, are primarily responsible for making proteins that help patch up broken DNA and keep the cells stable.
But on mutation, the proteins in them no longer work accurately and they gradually start behaving in ways they shouldn’t—including turning into cancerous cells. Mutations in both the BRCA genes also increase the risk of ovarian cancer in women.
According to statistical data, on average, a woman has a 12% risk of developing breast cancer at some point in her life, while those with already a BRCA 1 or 2 mutation have a 50% to 85% chance of getting diagnosed with it. One scientific study recently found that 72% of women with the BRCA 1 mutation and 69% of women with the BRCA 2 mutation eventually got breast cancer by the age of 80.
Additionally, the mutations in the BRCA genes add up to the risk of cultivating cancer in both breasts. Research shows that women with a BRCA mutation who get cancer in one breast have a 26% to 40% likelihood of getting a tumour in the other as well. Even men with BRCA mutations have a higher incidence of developing breast and other forms of cancer.
Besides BRCA 1 or BRCA2, other genetic mutations in specific genes can increase the odds of breast cancer. These genes include ATM, PALB2: TP53, CHEK2, PTEN, CDH1, and STK11.
How To Diminish The Risk of Inherited Breast Cancer?
Unlike other forms of diseased conditions, one can do nothing to prevent genetic mutations. However, genetic testing and counselling might help one overcome fear and help in adopting specific preventive measures like getting regularly screened and pursuing a healthy lifestyle.
It is extremely crucial to be more attentive in case breast cancer or any other form of cancer affects your closest relatives, including your mother and sister. The exact age at which your family was analyzed with cancer also plays a significant role in assessing the risk of breast cancer.
For further information, it is better to consult your doctor or genetic counsellor.