Tag Archives: Women

Your BRCA Genes and Breast Cancer Awareness

Pink ribbon w Blue ratio_ctrBy Hui Xie-Zukauskas

We wear pink, especially in October, in honor of those who are currently fighting breast cancer and who died of breast cancer. Altogether, pink is the color associated with breast cancer awareness. For the same reason, I challenge you to go beyond the PINK, by learning a little bit more about how a damaging change in our genes causes breast cancer.

A mutation of BRCA genes has been linked to breast cancer. Indeed, this mutation inherited from either parent allows cancer to grow. Each of us has BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, have you ever wondered whether or not you carry a mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2?

Today, let’s get into BRCA mutation 101.

First, what are BRCA1 and BRCA2?

BRCA genes_Basic_CPDBRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are cancer suppressors, i.e. they help fight breast cancer. When either of these genes becomes mutated, it no longer functions properly. As a result of unrepaired DNA damage and impaired genetic integrity, cells are likely growing uncontrolled to develop cancer, just as a car racing on the highway without a brake.

What are harmful effects of BRCA mutation?

For women with BRCA mutation, the lifetime risk of breast cancer is approximately 80%, and chance of ovarian cancers is 54%.

Furthermore, BRCA mutations are also linked to other cancers, including:

  • Women with a BRCA1 mutation are at risk for ovarian cancer and pancreatic cancer.
  • Women with a BRCA2 are at increased risk for melanoma and pancreatic cancer.
  • Other cancer risks: endometrial cancer, colon cancer, etc.
  • Men with BRCA2 mutation are at increased risk of pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer and melanoma.

Who are BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation carriers?

  1. Young women. Notably, women with a BRCA1 mutation are typically diagnosed with breast cancer at a young age. Approximately one-half of breast cancers occur in BRCA1 mutation carriers before the age of 40.
  2. Both women and men. BRCA is not a sex-linked gene, hence women are not the only BRCA mutation carriers. Men carry BRCA mutation too, although they have a lower risk. A harmful BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation can be inherited from a person’s mother or father. So, BRCA mutation can pass on without skipping a generation.
  3. Diverse ethnicity. Americans can be BRCA mutation carriers, so can other populations worldwide.

How to detect a BRCA mutation? Pros and Cons?

You can get a genetic screening. Identifying or determining BRCA gene mutation is a blood test. DNA sample for mutation testing can also be obtained from saliva.

Genetic testing may spot unaffected yet high-risk individuals for prevention or closer monitoring, and can help affected women choose the best cancer therapy.

On the other hand, it’s not a routine blood test for public screening. It’s expensive, and takes about a month to get the result. You need to get a genetic counseling and check with an oncologist to make an informed decision.

To conclude

BRCA gene mutations can lead to breast cancer and potentially other cancers. Early detection is the key to saving lives.

Undeniably, breast cancer prevention is for both women and men, and is a year-around practice. We cannot control our genes, but each of us can control or stop an unhealthy lifestyle to reduce cancer risk.


New Angle on Cervical Cancer Risks

By Hui Xie-Zukauskas

NEW Right Angle Tree_sFirst, you’ve gotten a key to cervical cancer awareness. Cervical cancer is preventable, and the best preventative strategy is to combine regular cervical screening with HPV vaccination. What else is new about cervical cancer?

HPV is not the only cause.

Although HPV is the major culprit of cervical cancer, a large number of women infected with HPV have never developed cervical cancer. So what additional factors contribute to the progression of a pre-cancerous lesion to invasive cancer?

  • Genetic factor
  • Smoking
  • Oral contraceptive use
  • Hormone replacement (may modulate the immune response to HPV)
  • Immune suppression

Obviously, cervical cancer development is a multi-factorial process and involves genetic, environmental, hormonal and immunological factors in addition to HPV. Of note, smoking appears to be the most significant environmental risk factor.

The immune system is a protector, but not danger-proof.

A wealth of research information reveals that a weakened immune system plays a role in cervical cancer, because -

  • Women with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection are subjected to a higher incidence of cervical cancer.
  • HPV-infected individuals with smoking history are susceptible to cervical cancer.
  • Persistence of HPV infection, in the presence of altered or suppressed immune system, can increase the incidence of cervical cancer.

You might wonder how cancer immunity works. It lies on two folds: one is so-called cancer immune surveillance, and the other, cancer immune escape. Simply speaking, cancer immune surveillance, the immune response, functions like a security camera that can identify a dangerous signal (e.g. bacteria, pathogen, or cancerous cells), in conjunction with groups of helpers (i.e. T cells) and warriors (i.e. Natural Killer cells) that can fight off or destroy cancer cells.

On the other hand, cancer immune escape implies that cancer behaves like a sneaky criminal using various means to get around your immune system, i.e. to escape cancer immune surveillance. As a result, the immune system is unable to eliminate cancerous cells, and cancer growth becomes non-stop. So, can you see what a critical role the immune system plays in fighting the cancer war?

Final words on HOPE and ACTION:

While we anticipate potential future therapy to stop cancer immune escape, we can do our best to strengthen cancer immune surveillance so that it doesn’t allow cancer to get out of control.

How to boost the immune system? See 25 Unbeatable Ways to Strengthen Your Immune System


Image Credit: By fPat

Are You Missing Out on Valuable Information on Cervical Cancer Prevention?

By Hui Xie-Zukauskas

While cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers in women, it is, thankfully, preventable. But do you know how to prevent cervical cancer? As the saying goes, “what you don’t know can hurt you.” Here are five important approaches to cervical cancer prevention:

1.      Enhance awareness of cervical cancer.

Misconceptions and poor awareness about cervical cancer are common. Poor awareness may result in delayed detection and treatment due to lack of knowledge and motivation, which can promote poor survivorship. During cervical cancer awareness month, find a way to raise your awareness; e.g., read more information or watch videos on cervical cancer (at the CDC website), send this e-Card to loved ones or friends, and/or participate in a public service to spread the word.

2.      Vaccinate girls and boys.

More than 95 % of cervical cancer cases are closely associated with human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. Some types of HPV are also known to cause cancers of the anus, penis, vulva, vagina, and head & neck. Vaccination is an effective way to prevent specific virus-associated cancers, and using the HPV vaccine to prevent cervical cancer is an example. Accumulated research suggests that both girls and boys should get vaccinated for HPV. Vaccination can be beneficial to both women and men by reducing the global HPV-related health burden.

3.      Go “green” in your diet – drink green tea and eat green leafy vegetables.

Higher dietary intake of dark green vegetables has been found to be associated with a nearly 50% decreased risk of cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN, i.e. abnormal cell growth). Oxidative stress due to overproduction of free radicals and deficiency in antioxidants may promote HPV-infected cells to transform into a cancer-causing process in the cervical tissues. Therefore, poor unbalanced nutrition is a potential risk factor for cervical cancer development. On the other hand, antioxidants and micronutrients such as carotenoids, vitamin A, vitamin C, and folate from colorful vegetables/fruits may reduce risk for cervical cancer. Green tea compounds such as polyphenols seem to act as chemoprotective agents in the suppression of HPV-infected cervical cells. Overall, dietary micronutrients have a protective effect against cervical cancer and other cancers.

4.      Stay smoking-free.

Smoking and HPV infection is a dangerous combination that can adversely affect cervical health. Here is why:

  • Cervical cancer specimens often contain tobacco byproducts that damage the DNA of cervical cells.
  • Smoking weakens the functions of our immune system.
  • Smoking + HPV infection = Accelerated cervical cancer growth.
  • Smoking increases the cervical cancer risk by 2-5 times.
  • Smoking also reduces survival among women diagnosed with cervical cancer, compared with non-smokers.

If you smoke, stop. If you don’t smoke, avoid second-hand smoke, period.

5.      Get screening and early treatment.

Take a Pap smear test to detect any precancerous cells; follow up on any abnormal result, then start a treatment regimen with your doctor(s). Get screened for HPV, the main cause of cervical cancer. Following updated guidelines from the American Cancer Society, women from 30 to 65 years old should preferably be screened with HPV testing and cytology (not HPV testing) every 5 years, or screened with cytology alone every 3 years; the latter is recommended for young women (age 21 to 29 years old).

Detection of cervical cancer at an early stage is linked to an excellent survival rate. Additionally, thanks to considerably improved cancer therapy, cervical cancer mortality has been reduced. For women diagnosed with cervical cancer, the 5-year survival rate is close to 75% (NIH/NCI report). Getting regular screening and early treatment has been a successful approach for both cervical cancer and breast cancer.

So now it’s time to take action! Please carefully consider the guidelines above and make any necessary changes in lifestyle that will help you prevent cervical cancer.

And do you know anyone who might miss the important information outlined here for cervical cancer prevention? If so, we would appreciate you forwarding this blog to anyone you think might benefit from the information it contains.