Breast Cancer and Environmental Causes: Links not as clear as we've hoped.

Breast Cancer Testing

The latest research finds that real links between environmental causes, genetics, and breast cancer occurrence continue to be elusive. Perhaps, it’s for a reason. Are we thinking of cancer in the wrong way?

Breast Cancer
published in aquila style
(click to read original article)

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

The above graphic is from an interesting article titled, Surprises in Hunt for Environmental Links to Breast Cancer, published by , 6:30 pm Monday, 11th November 2013 www.aquila-style.com. The article is about one of the latest studies trying to find a definitive link to breast cancer origins. Many studies have tried to find links to environmental and genetic causes. So far, the research has not been definitive, to say the least. We know that genetic mutations are present in many cancers, but we also know that they are sometimes not there in some – where we expect them and are there in many – where we do not see cancer develop.

“We have still got 80 percent that has got to be environmental,” said Reinlib, who is part of the Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Program (BCERP) program that has received some $70 million in funds from the US government since 2003.

The above quote from the article indicates clear evidence that the causes have to be environmental because we have ruled out that family history is the main indicator. Yet, this may be a false premise as well.  Just because a white jelly bean is not vanilla flavored does not mean it must be coconut flavored. It can be any flavor at all or have none! Most of the research into environmental, family history, and genetic mutation indicators has shown a relatively slight correlation to breast cancers’ actual development.  These indicators may statistically increase the chances a few percent, but they do not provide definitive guidance that one will, or will not, get cancer.

Recently, some researchers are starting to discuss cancer, less as a disease — even though the outcome is devastating on the individuals and the family — but more as a naturally occurring process — perhaps necessary in the species. Perhaps this same process that sometimes displays cancer is a natural part of the core engine that drives natural selection to improve the species. Changing how we think about and classify cancer may have more of an effect on how we learn to adapt to it than “cure it” as time goes on.

We have found many genetic markers in the past decade or so that we felt were the main drivers of disease, like the BRACA genes for breast cancer, only to find that they turned out not to be specific. BRACAs were considered a key indicator specifically for breast cancer but recently has been shown to exist for prostate — not much of a surprise as prostate and breast tissues are histologically very similar — lung and now many other cancers. BRACAs are more likely broad-based cancer markers as time will likely tell.  

Most genetic markers are likely relatively nonspecific. In fact, our genes may be good blueprints for building the body and its systems but may not be the control point for what happens with these things when they are built. Further, genetic markers themselves have been known to not be definitive for the occurrence of cancer. You can have the markers and not get cancer, and you can sometimes have cancer and not have the markers. 

Some other researchers now believe there is a different biochemical system at work. Undiscovered, this other system has been dubbed epi-genetic — meaning above the gene. Numerous studies over the past 15 years have indicated the presence of some other control point. Don’t forget that it took many decades for the actual chemistry of DNA to be identified and proven, even though we understood the theory of its presence for many years.

It is likely in the years to come, we will find more answers to these new questions, and new theories will fundamentally change how we think of cancer and reset our expectations on its treatment and occurrence.

Please remember all those who have died due to this horrible disease!

See other Stories:

When Mammograms Lie

Episode 7: Mammography, Ultrasound & Density

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