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    Breast Cancer 101 : What is Cancer?

    What Is Cancer?
    Strip away all of the emotional baggage that the word carries. Cancer is a badly programmed cell.

    Your Genes
    Every cell in your body carries code that makes it work. The code is carried in protein molecules that we know as DNA. The DNA is strung together in pretty double helix forms that make up your genes.

    Normally, the genetic code programs the cell to tell it what it is and what it should do.

    You know the story, one egg and one sperm cell join together to create a single cell.

    The egg portion carries the genetic code from the mother's side of the family. The sperm contributes the father's characteristics. This single cell splits in to two, then four, then eight cells until it gets large enough to begin getting specialized.

    The genes start their work
    Some cells become muscles, others are directed to nervous system work. Eyes are created with different colors, hair with color and texture, skin with more or less melanin to make it darker or lighter, bones, teeth, toes and fingers all separate out and multiply into a complete and complex human being.

    What does all of this have to do with cancer?
    Everything. While genes cause cells to multiply, they also cause cells to die when they get older and stop functioning correctly. For some reason - or many reasons - this programmed cell death (apoptosis) is sometimes left out of the genetic code in certain cells.

    Mutations
    Some of the bad programming starts as far back as the egg and sperm. The BRCA gene mutations that run in families and increase risk of breast cancer are this type of miscoding. They account for less than ten percent of all breast cancer. The majority of mutations - changes in the DNA program passed from cell to cell - are caused by other things.

    Environmental toxins
    No one is quite sure what those others things are. We do know that some toxins in our environment are carcenogenic - cancer causing. Smoking cigarettes can cause changes in the cells in your lungs and other areas that start cancer. More research needs to be done to find other elements in the things we eat and drink - and breathe - that cause these changes.

    Tumors
    What happens then is, instead of dying and making space for a fresh young cell, the old cell stays and keeps multiplying. The cells that come from the cell with the bad code carry the mistake and they also refuse to clear out when they should.

    The result is a colony of cells that keep growing and take up space that normal cells need. This clump of confused cells is called a tumor.

    Some tumors are benign
    They just grow in their space and have no interest in moving anywhere else. They don't grow very fast and most of the time they don't interfere with the other cells around them. While they shouldn't be where they are, they usually don't cause any trouble.

    Other tumors are malignant
    They grow faster than the other cells around them. Because they are growing so fast, they need more food and space than the normal cells. They get the food by creating a network of blood vessels that brings extra nutrition to their door. This extra food going to the tumor cells robs the normal cells of vital energy. These tumors not only grow, they kill the cells in the neighborhood who are not like them. These tumors are malignant - cancer.

    These tumors may spread
    They may also decide that they need more space. That's when they send seedling cells out into the blood stream to start colonies in other areas. These cells find new homes in other organs and begin growing and killing the cells around them. No matter where the cells settle, they are still identified by their original home. That's why you can have breast cancer metastases in the lungs or liver and it is still called breast cancer.

    Where breast cancer likes to grow
    Now that you understand what cancer is and how it starts, you need to know a little about the cells that make up the breast to understand how cancer starts there.

     

     

     

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