Breast cancer is the second leading cancer diagnosed in women next to non-melanoma skin cancer. New cases of breast cancer are on the rise, with over 210,000 diagnoses of invasive breast cancer expected this year. Along with the increase of incidence has come increased awareness and increased research. Researchers have not yet fully determined the causes of breast cancer, but they do have some leads. With further funding, they hope to be able to continue their research and eventually find the causes of breast cancer and the cure.
Some of the biggest advances in determining the causes of breast cancer have come by researchers discovering how changes to a cell's DNA can cause normal breast tissue to become cancerous. There are 2 genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, that have been associated with some cases of breast cancer. These 2 genes are tumor suppressor genes, which means they are responsible for causing specific cells to die at the right time. Certain changes in a person's DNA can cause these genes to be turned off, so the cells they were suppressing are allowed to flourish. This can cause cancer to develop in the breast tissue.
These mutated genes are not necessarily inherited. Researchers have found that many mutations occur during a woman's lifetime. However, they have not been able to identify what causes these mutations. To date, most tests for mutated cancer genes have not been shown to be useful in making treatment decisions. Furthermore, researchers have not yet found a way to inhibit gene mutations.
Research has also shown that increased exposure to estrogen over one's lifetime is linked to an increased risk of breast cancer. It is not known if this is specifically one of the causes of breast cancer, or if it is just a contributing factor.
Nonetheless, those women who have been exposed to higher amounts of estrogen, such as those women who started menses before age 12 and entered menopause after age 50, should be diligent in their breast cancer screening.
In addition to helping to find the causes of breast cancer, the research being done is also finding better treatment options that give hope for higher survival rates. Therefore, it is critical that this research continues. While the government and private corporations play significant roles in breast cancer research, there is still a fair amount of funding for breast cancer research that comes from public sources, including breast cancer foundations.
Most people are familiar with the walk breast cancer fundraisers that are held each year. These walk breast cancer events are actually very effective in raising money for breast cancer research. For example, the American Cancer Society's Making Strides Against Breast Cancer event raised $32 million in 2004 alone. Since its inception in 1993, this program has raised over $160 million.
Continued support for such programs is essentially to the continued funding of research and the hope for a cure. As the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in women, it is essential we do all in our power to find the causes of breast cancer and find the cure.