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Breast Cancer Discoveries and Research

Updated on October 12, 2015

Copyright 2012 - present, Kris Heeter, Ph.D.

While it has been known for some time now that only 5-10% of breast cancers are based on inherited genetic mutations, the underlying cause of the other 90-95% has been an immense curiosity among scientists.

Researchers studying the genetics that underlie multiple breast cancer tumors are reporting some rather unexpected findings.

With recent advances in DNA sequencing technology, the genetics of the large non-inherited class are now being intensely investigated. Research in the last few years, has lead to the identification of a significant number of non-inherited genetic rearrangements in many breast cancers.

Several research groups have found that the genetic abnormalities in any given breast cancer tumor studied can be as simple as a single genomic (genetic) rearrangement to as many as 200 rearrangements.

Research released online in November, 2011, and published in Nature Medicine, identifies two new specific genetic rearrangements that are thought to trigger 5-7% of all breast cancers.

Breast Cancer - No Longer Seen As One Disease

One of several leading investigators of breast cancer tumor research, Dr. Mike Stratton of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, has noted differences in the genetic rearrangements of different breast cancer tumors:

"...the genomes were different from each other, with multiple distinctive patterns of rearrangement observed, supporting the view that breast cancer is not one, but several diseases."

This ultimately makes treating breast cancer a bit more challenging. With so many different ways that genes can recombine and rearrange, it means that one cure or solution isn't going to work for all breast cancers.

What has become apparent, though, is that a common denominator exists in many of these tumors:

"It looks as though some breast cancers have a defect in the machinery that maintains and repairs DNA and this defect is resulting in large numbers of these [genetic] abnormalities..." (Dr. Andy Futreal of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute).

When DNA is damaged and the body's normal repair mechanisms are not functioning, genetic rearrangements start to pile up. This causes a significant amount of genetic damage that can no longer be fixed. When genetic damage goes unchecked and/or not fixed by the normal repair process, a tumor can eventually arise and get out of control.

How Do These Non-Inherited Genetic Changes Occur?

Our bodies are subject to DNA damage on a daily basis. Chemical exposure through foods, through the air we breath in and the household products we use can all lead to genetic damage on a reoccurring basis. Repeated exposure to radiation (X-rays, cell phones, and other electronic gadgets) can also increase genetic damage to varying degrees.

During our rest cycle (when we sleep), individual cells in the body go through a ritualistic DNA repair process. It's during that time that much of the damage is taken care of and normal DNA structure is restored.

However, there is point where this repair process itself can either be damaged or can be overwhelmed and ultimately the genetic damage cannot be reversed.

Long term or excessive exposure to environmental factors, poor diet, or damage to the factors that participate in DNA repair are just some examples that can contribute to the long term genetic mutations and rearrangements that can become permanent.

A healthy lifestyle that includes a nutrient rich diet (that is strongly plant-based for increased antioxidants and nutrients), sufficient sleep and stress management are all key components to keeping genetic mutations and rearrangements at bay.

A growing body of research strongly indicates that nearly 40% of most cancers can be prevented through a healthy diet and lifestyle.

Genome Rearrangements Beyond Breast Cancer

Genomic rearrangements are not isolated to breast cancer alone and have been associated with other cancers. Genetic recombination has classically been shown to be common in some soft tissue tumors and blood cancers.

This new research on breast cancer, as well as a growing number of other cancer studies in the last few years, paints a much broader picture, indicating that these types of genetic rearrangements are not restricted to soft tumor cancers. They are now also associated with commonly found solid tumors, like those found in prostate, breast and lung cancer.

And, researchers are now identifying aggressive breast cancers by using mathematical and statistical analyses to look at patterns and complex changes (genomic rearrangements) in breast cancer genomes.

Additional References of Interest:

Science Daily Online, 2011: Genetic Rearrangements Drive 5 to 7 Percent of Breast Cancers

Robinson et al. 2011. Functionally recurrent rearrangements of the MAST kinase and Notch gene families in breast cancer. Nature Medicine doi:10.1038/nm.2580

Stephens et al. Complex landscapes of somatic rearrangement in human breast cancer genomes. Nature, 2009; 462 (7276): 1005 DOI: 10.1038/nature08645

Science Daily Online, 2012: Identifying Aggressive Breast Cancers by Interpreting the Mathematical Patterns in the Cancer Genome

To learn more about the importance of sleep:

In addition to repairing DNA, our sleep cycle has profound affects on other aspects our health. Below are two additional articles that cover the importance of sleep:

Top 3 Health Risks Related to Sleep Deprivation

What Do Diabetes and Mental Illness Have in Common?


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    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 6 years ago from Indiana

      @Teresa - thanks for adding to comment section. I'm glad to hear your mum and grand mum are and were survivors. It's a tough disease and you are right, survival rates were much lower back in the '40's. I have run across some women who are 30-year survivors which is fantastic considering treatments have evolved a lot over 30 years.

      @Rusti Mccollum - thanks for your note and for urging women to be screened yearly - education and those yearly mammograms are very important!

    • Rusti Mccollum profile image

      Ruth McCollum 6 years ago from Lake Oswego, Oregon

      This is one of the best articles I read about different cancers ,tumors.I urge women to get their mammogram every year. Great hub, voted this up,so other people can get more educated.

    • Teresa Coppens profile image

      Teresa Coppens 6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Another informative hub. Both my mum and grand mum are or we're as in my grandmother's case cancer survivors. My grandmother was diagnosed in the 1940s when I'm guessing survival rates were much lower than today. Our knowledge regarding the mysteries of the human body seem to be progressing at an ever faster pace. We can only hope a cure will come soon.

    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 6 years ago from Indiana

      Susan - thanks for stopping by and I love hearing from survivors! There is so much research coming out these days on factors that contribute to breast cancer and steps that be taken to lower the risk of recurrence..

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Very interesting article. I am always looking and reading about breast cancer as I am a 20 year survivor.

    • vox vocis profile image

      Jasmine 6 years ago

      Very informative hub and interesting findings! I didn't know that breast cancer can occur due to as many as 200 rearrangements. Yes, diet is extremly important in all health issues, both in preventing and curing diseases.

    • thesingernurse profile image

      thesingernurse 6 years ago from Rizal, Philippines

      Thank you very much for your very informative article! For now, all we could do to combat any type of cancer is through prevention. As a nurse, this information will surely help me in terms of health teachings I employ to my community, friends, and loved ones. Looking forward to read your future hubs!

    • GmaGoldie profile image

      Kelly Kline Burnett 6 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

      Dear Kris,

      This is awesome! I will link back to your article on my cancer articles. Thank you very much! I learned allot. Very well written. We are lucky to have you here at HubPages.

    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 6 years ago from Indiana

      Minnetonka Twin - I'll keep my eye out for on any new and interesting lung cancer research. I try to monitor the major cancer journals regularly for tidbits to share. Thanks for stopping by and have a wonderful holiday!

    • Minnetonka Twin profile image

      Linda Rogers 6 years ago from Minnesota

      Kris-This is an excellent hub article on recent studies on breast cancers and other cancers as well. As a lung cancer survivor, I can't read enough about the latest studies and research.

    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 6 years ago from Indiana

      Thanks for stopping by Shelly. It's unfortunate that breast cancer is really this complex - it makes finding "a cure" not as easy as many would like or hope. But I'm hoping as the years pass, more women will start to become proactive and take steps to prevent it in the first place:)

    • Shelly McRae profile image

      Shelly McRae 6 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Excellent article about breast cancer, a comprensive explanation of a complex topic.