Image from Wikimedia Commons
With it being breast cancer awareness month, there has been a lot of extra attention drawn to the condition. Breast cancer is found in the form of a tumor on breast tissue. The tumor is made of cancerous cells, metastasizes and get worse, infecting other tissues in the body as time progresses. Breast cancer is most prevalent in women, but can be also found in men. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime and doctors are still researching the cause behind it.
They do know that it originates when cells are signaled to “kill” themselves through apoptosis. This reminded me of chapter 11, cell signaling. The cancer growth starts because of a flaw in the cell communication. In breast cancer specifically, breast tissue cells continue to divide and grow rapidly even without a signal at its target cell. Typically, the cells would then get a cell signal to stop dividing uncontrollably, but there is also mishap in the cell’s ability to respond to death signals. The final product is the malignant tumor or lump in a women’s breast. As time continues, cell signaling can also allow the cancer to spread to other parts of the body.
If caught early enough, doctors have found ways to prevent or slow down this rapid growth of cells. Many breast cancer patients end up getting chemotherapy or a mastectomy, the removal of the breasts. Another important understanding when learning about breast cancer is the lymph system. This is another way in which the cells can signal other areas of the body’s cells to begin to divide. There are several parts to the lymph system. This includes the lymph nodes and the lymphatic vessels. Breast cancer can enter the lymphatic vessels (similar to small veins) and begin to grow in the lymph nodes. Once the cancer gets into the lymph system, it is highly likely that the cells will also begin to metastasize in other parts of the body, like the blood stream.
The spreading throughout the body makes it hard to treat in patients. For other diseases like diabetes, the doctor has a place to locate and treat with a substance like insulin. In many breast cancer patients, because it is common that it will appear in other places, the treatment is harder and can be less effective.
This disease is widespread and continues to become more and more common. When looking at it from an AP Biology perspective, it’s insane to think that one missing signal to a target cell can result in this deadly and fatal illness. I think it will be interesting to see if doctors can cure this in the future and figure out why the signaling in cells randomly begins to become non-responsive and cause the cells to divide so rapidly. Even though October is coming to an end, the awareness should not stop. Almost everyone knows of at least someone that has been affected with breast cancer, and I believe that educating people more about how the cancer itself develops could possibly result in a cure in the future.