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Genes and Female Cancers

Cervical cancer screening has traditionally included looking for cancer cells in a pap test. Breast cancer is usually detected via a mammogram.

But cervical cancer and breast cancer begin in the genes. When the genes are mutated, they are known as oncogenes. They cause the cell to divide faster and there is an acceleration of growth of what becomes a cervical cancer. The


oncogenes must be turned on by human papilloma viruses (certain ones) because there is a relationship between getting human papilloma virus and getting cervical cancer. These factors push the cell to grow faster and stronger into a cancerous one.

A proto-oncogene precedes the development of an oncogene. There is one that is related to the epidermal growth factor receptor. Epidermal growth factor receptor is turned on during puberty when the cells need to grow normally. It promotes cell growth and development during puberty. If the proto-oncogene for epidermal growth factor turns on inappropriately, it can cause cells to grow out of control. Out of control growth defines what cancer actually is. The cells grow independently of the rest of the organ, in this case the cervix, and it gets stuck in the “On” position, growing when it shouldn’t grow.

The HER-2 receptor is another oncogene receptor. It is also related to breast cancer. Women born with the HER-2/neu oncogene have a higher risk for breast cancer and there are drugs that block that receptor in patients with known breast cancer. Doctors can check for the HER-2 gene or for the presence of the protein in the woman’s system to see who is at risk for breast cancer and cervical cancer. The HER-2/neu oncogene codes for a growth factor receptor that causes uncontrolled growth of female cancers, including cervical and breast cancer. It is currently mostly used in breast cancer risk detection and in the treatment of breast cancer.

It turns out that 70 to 80 percent of breast pre-cancers have over-expression of the HER-2/neu oncogene. The cancer cells have been re-programmed to grow too fast and act independently of cells that are normal. The HER-2 receptor is being evaluated in lung cancer, pancreatic cancer and in ovarian cancer as well. It is hoped that these cancers, as well as breast and cervical cancer risk factors can be done by measuring the presence of the HER-2/neu risk factors.

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