What causes Breast Cancer?

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The term “Breast Cancer” brings to mind "Angelina Jolie" – the real life heroine who inspired this generation with her bold moves (double mastectomy) to prevent this deadly disease. A whopping 49,564 women across the United Kingdom were diagnosed with this disease in 2010, with an addition of 12,457 women since 1995. Astonishingly, 20% of these women are from the fifty plus bracket.


According to Cancer Research UK, the figure is 2,356 more than that of 1995’s statistics. The World Health Organization puts the number of women (per 100,000) suffering from Breast Cancer at 108 in Belgium, 85 in Australia, 83 in Canada, 76 in the United States of America, 41 in South Africa, 23 in India and 7 in Mongolia amongst many others. Since 1971, the numbers have increased by 90% in the United Kingdom alone. Though the death rate has fallen for women under 50 - from 9 out of every 100,000 (in 1993-1995) to 5 out of every 100,000 (in 2010), breast cancer is becoming an increased threat to women of different nations, all for similar reasons – excessive alcohol consumption and contraceptive pills to name a few.




What factors increase breast cancer risk?

Late pregnancy: While women in third world countries namely Africa are 4 times less prone (owing to the fact that they give birth to kids at the prime of their youth and breast-feed them for a longer time), the risk of breast cancer is maximum in richer countries.

Wayward lifestyle: Researches show that for a woman aged around 50, consuming alcohol in large quantity and smoking could increase the risk for breast cancer by 6.5% although she might be carrying zero risk genetically. Whereas, working out for 2 hours regularly, staying fit and slim reduces the risk by 24%.

Environmental causes: While smoking and drinking have been marked as major threats, exposure to outdoor chemicals - gasoline fumes and vehicle exhaust – also increase the risk of breast cancer moderately. However, it is to be noted that no matter of precaution could be of help if the propensity for breast cancer lies in the genes of a person.




What is the connection between genes and breast cancer?

There are certain genes in our body – Oncogenes, that speed up cell division and Tumor Suppressing Genes, that cause cells to die at the right time. Certain mutations in DNA either turn on the Oncogenes or turn off the Tumor Suppressing Genes (BRCA 1 and BRCA 2), therebyincreasing the risks of Cancer.

Marcheline Bertrand (American actress and producer; Biological mother of Angelina Jolie) had succumbed to Ovarian Cancer at the age of 56. When her daughter realized she had inherited a mutated BRCA1 gene from her mother she underwent double mastectomy to reduce the risk of breast cancer in her body from 87% to a mere 5%. Anyone with mutated BRCA or PTEN or TP53 genes has a 50-80% risk of breast cancer, but in Jolie’s case, the risk was higher owing to family history. Sometimes, though rarely, gene mutation is not inherited, but acquired. However the reason for this has not been specified, though scientists attribute this to extensive pollution, radiation and cancer causing chemicals.




Does plastic increase the risk of breast cancer?

Scientists at the Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, Massachusetts, have found that organic compound Bisphenol A or BPA used to make plastic, changes breast development and increases breast cancer occurance. During experimental studies, it has been seen that Bisphenol A or BPA responds unusually responds to oestrogen in body of the female mice, eventually leading to cancer. Used in plastic food containers and cans, BPA slowly leaches from these products and is then absorbed by the human body.