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Breast Cancer and the Environment Essay

History of Breast Cancer

Before the 1970s, discussions based on breast cancer could only be found in journals. The disease was considered a taboo subject and that is why those who suffered from the disease felt ashamed to discuss the disease in public. Approximately 3500 years ago, the Egyptians were the first people to discover the disease. The father and founder of western medicine, Hippocrates, was the first to start working on breast cancer. He named the disease “karkinos” which meant “crab” because the tumors had tentacles similar to the legs of crabs.

More researches were done by other ancient doctors and researchers, and in 1976, Bernard Fisher discovered that instead of radical mastectomy, simple breast surgery accompanied by chemotherapy could help prevent the spread of the cancer cells throughout the body. Currently this is what is happening with some additional advancement like the new ways of isolating cancer causing genes ATM and BRCA2. There has not yet been found a cure for breast cancer yet. The perception of the public has however drastically changed, since women suffering from the disease no longer feel ashamed, and can discuss the disease openly and form sensitization campaigns to help prevent the spread of the disease. (Ellinwood, 2009)

Genes and Breast Cancer

The genes that contribute to the development of breast cancer include brca1, brca2, cdhl, stk11, tp53 and pten. Others are bard1, chek2, nbn, rad50 and brip1. The most important genes for example those that repair DNA that is damaged or those that control the growth of cells, may experience mutation of genes that build up, allowing cells to develop and grow without control hence forming a tumor. This is how all other cancers form including the breast cancer. Some breast cancers run within a particular family and this is usually caused by the inheritance of mutations of BRCA2 or BRCA1 genes. Women who inherit these genes not only have a risk of getting breast cancer but also other cancers such as ovarian cancer in the course of their lifetimes. Men with the mutations of BRCA1genes   are also at a very high risk of getting breast cancer. Some research studies show the variants of the inherited genes, CHEK2 and ATM genes are strongly related to the risk of breast cancer. Somatic or non-inherited mutations in such genes as DIRAS3, TP53 and Her-2 or ERBB2 have been found in breast tumors, and are therefore, associated to breast cancer (Nihalengineer, 2011).

Despite the genes, there are other risk factors that have been seen to cause breast cancer. This does not mean that all women with breast cancer have all these risk factors though. Some do not have the risk factors but still suffer from the disease. It is however, not clear how these risk factors cause cells to become cancer.

Some of these factors are; age, family history, dense breast tissue and menstrual periods. As a woman gets older, the chances of getting breast cancer are increased. The women who have had close blood relatives who suffered from breast cancer have a very high chance of getting breast cancer too. A dense breast tissue means that the breast has less fatty tissue and a more gland tissue. Such women with this kind of breast are not only at a higher risk of getting breast cancer but, the breast makes it very difficult for doctors to detect any problem such as a lump on the mammograms.

Those women who get their menopause after fifty five years of age, and those who began their menstrual periods below the age of twelve have a very great probability of getting breast cancer. This is because these women have been exposed to the hormones progesterone and estrogen caused by the many menstrual periods they have had in their lives.

Contribution of the environment to Breast Cancer

According to research, unless a woman is exposed to the environmental factors that cause cancer, she cannot develop the disease even if she inherited the genetic predisposition. In other words, the environment or surrounding is what triggers breast cancer. Some risk factors that cause breast cancer like late menopause, late first birth, early menarche and family history contribute eighty five to eighty seven percent of the registered cases as compared to the genetic factors. (Ratner, 1999)

Exposure to ionizing radiation is the leading environmental factor that causes breast cancer. This is shown by the fact that people who have undergone long radiation treatment and the survivors of atomic bombs have been affected by different cancers including breast cancer. Other environmental factors that have a high chance of causing breast cancer are environmental factors such as organochlorines and hydrocarbons, hormone disrupting substances like phthalates, occupational exposures including radiation and chemicals and light at night that disrupts the secretion of melatonin. Others include infectious agents like the leukemia viruses and Epstein-Barr.

Life style choices and Breast Cancer risk

Having children later in life, that is, after thirty, or not having children at all, increases the chances of one getting breast cancer. This can be prevented by being pregnant at an early age and many times as this lowers the number of menstrual periods in the woman’s lifetime. The use of hormone therapy after a woman attains menopause also makes the chances of a woman getting breast cancer very high. These women take therapy to prevent osteoporosis (thinning of bones) and reduce the effects of menopause.

According to studies, there is a high risk of cancer to women who use birth control pills than those who have never used them. Women should therefore, reduce the amount of birth control pills they take into their bodies. Breast feeding is also encouraged to the young lactating mothers because it lowers breast cancer risk. Breast feeding lowers the number of menstrual periods a woman has in her life just like pregnancy. Other lifestyle risk factors that cause breast cancer are being obese or overweight, consuming two to five cups of alcohol daily and lack of exercise. (Lauersen, 1998)

According to the American cancer society, to reduce these cancers causing factors, one should exercise at least five times a week for a minimum of forty five to sixty minutes and avoid excessive weight gain throughout ones life by always staying healthy. (Ellen, 1999)

Breast Cancer and Inheritance

Breast cancer occurs due to genetic mutations in the breast which happens in the course of a person’s life. Changes in BRCA2 and BRCA1 genes increase the chance of a person getting cancer, as already discussed above. However, it should be noted that it is not every person that inherits the above gene mutations will develop cancer. In other words, when BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes mutate, the risk of one getting the disease is high, and they do not cause cancer.

Research being done today

Many medical centers and hospitals have researched on the causes, treatment and prevention o0f breast cancer. Several studies have had results that show that estrogen-receptor modulators like raloxifen and tamoxifen may lower the risk of the disease to those women with the risk factors. Due to the side effects of the medicines, most women are adamant to use them. Drugs rich in vitamin A (retinoid) like fenretinide are being studied to see if they can help reduce breast cancer spread and risk. There has been developed a new drug that targets BRCA caused cancers called olaparib that has been successful so far in the treatment of ovarian, breast and prostrate cancers. (Bonner, 2008)

New ways of classifying breast cancer have come up to replace the old and current use of microscopes to check the size and look of tumors. A more advanced way has come up that entails classifying the breast cancer, based on their molecular content of features that will later predict the response and prognosis to treatment. According to this new research, there are four different types of breast cancer, namely: HER2 type, Luminal A and Luminal B types and lastly basal type.

Conclusion

Based on the above progress in research, the future is very bright and who knows, may be it is only a matter of time before there is a cure for this fatal disease, breast cancer. This research paper has briefly discussed breast cancer causes and its relation to the environment and genes. As we have already seen, cancer does not only affect women, but men also. A man has an approximately one percent chance of getting breast cancer as compared to the ninety nine percent chances of women. Although, the cure for breast cancer has not yet been found, people should avoid all the risk factors that are probable or capable of putting one in the risk of the fatal disease.

Breast cancer awareness will happen through increasing women campaigns to sensitize women, who are the majority affected and indulge the media in the spread of information worldwide on the same issue. The governments should also ensure that forums are put in place in schools to inform the youth on the preventive measures that ought to be taken to stay free from breast cancer.