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What Can Go Wrong? Causes of Breast Cancer

Despite how common breast cancer is, doctors and researchers do not truly understand how breast cancer starts in the breast. Even though they have some ideas about why a cancer cell grows and progresses into a tumor(TOO-MER) — Abnormal growth in the body, they are not completely sure what causes the first cancer cell to form. Let's talk about three well-known theories for how malignant(MA-LIG-NENT) — A cancer or abnormal tumor that grows uncontrollably and may spread to other parts of the body tumors grow.

Time to grab your keys and go for a drive. A cell in your body will be our car.

A car has many parts that work together to ensure it runs efficiently, just like a cell. Many individual components must work in harmony for the cell to function properly. An important part of any car is the engine. The engine makes the car move faster or slower, but the gas pedal is what controls speed. Similarly, an important part of any cell is the DNAThe blueprint of a cell that controls the function of all components within the cell; deoxyribonucleic acid. DNA is the blueprint of the cell that contains all of the information needed to control the cell. The DNA influences what the cell does and how it behaves, just like the gas pedal.

watercolor car
Sometimes the gas pedal of a car malfunctions, and the driver loses control of the car’s speed.

A mutation(MU-TAY-SHUN) — A change in the DNA that can lead to or cause cancer in your DNA can affect the function of the cell, causing the cell to grow wildly. A mutation is defined as an error in the basic make-up or blueprint of the cell. If this error occurs, the cell malfunctions. The mutation causes the cell to divide and replicate very quickly, resulting in cancer. This is like pressing your foot on the gas pedal but not being able to release the pedal. When this happens, the car accelerates too quickly, and you lose control.

The loss of normal apoptosis(A-POP-TOE-SIS) — The programmed death of a cell; when a normal cell is expected to die is another explanation for how some cancers grow.

Apoptosis is one of those complicated-sounding medical words, but the definition is simple. Within your body, certain normal cells are expected to grow and die every day. These cells have a predetermined, planned death. The planned or expected cell death is called apoptosis.

watercolor car speeding

Imagine that you are driving down a road, and all of a sudden, your brakes fail. Somehow your car’s computer was hacked and infected by a virus(VAI-RUS) — A foreign invader in the body that causes cells to function differently and can be spread to others through direct and indirect paths, causing you to lose control of the brakes. As you approach a busy intersection, you notice the other cars are not slowing down either. The virus has affected all of the cars near the intersection, too.

Speeding towards the red light, you try to apply your brakes again, but still nothing happens. Suddenly, you hit another car. Before you know it, cars are piling up from all four directions. This pile-up is like the growth of an abnormal mass(AB-NOR-MOL MAS) — An abnormal growth or tissue in your body. Losing control of your car’s brakes is like the loss of normal apoptosis. Some cancer cells keep functioning and do not die as expected, and these cells accumulate into a large cell pile-up, or tumor.

Hormones like estrogen(ES-TRO-JIN) — A hormone or chemical that is needed for normal bodily functions in women but can also make some breast cancers grow are also linked to breast cancer growth.

Estrogen is a necessary female hormone(HORE-MOAN) — Chemicals or proteins in the body which control many bodily functions for normal breast development. However, some breast cancer cells are overly sensitive to estrogen, driving the growth of tumors. Estrogen, for these cancer cells, is like supercharged gasoline (gas that makes a car go really fast) being pumped into your car. Similarly, estrogen acts like a supercharged hormone; it will feed the cancer cells in the breast and make them grow uncontrollably. Doctors sometimes refer to this cause as hormone stimulation(HORE-MOAN STIM-U-LAY-SHUN) — When breast cancer cells are overly sensitive to hormones (estrogen or progesterone), driving the growth of tumors or hormone sensitivity(HORE-MOAN SEN-SEH-TIV-EH-TEE) — When breast cancer cells are sensitive to hormones (estrogen or progesterone), driving the growth of tumors.

Despite massive amounts of research, no one truly understands why some women get breast cancer and others do not. Sometimes cancer just happens. However, there are situations that can increase a person’s chance of developing breast cancer. Patients with these conditions are at a higher risk for developing breast cancer.

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