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Every cell in the body contains DNA, which contains the genetic information on how the cell should function, reproduce, and die. Small portions of the DNA that carry these instructions are called genes. A change in a gene is called a mutation, and this can create a problem in which the cell does not function properly. Sometimes, this mutation can impede the cell's ability to turn off reproduction, which can lead to cancer.
Different mutations can arise spontaneously in the DNA over the course of a person's lifetime. However there are some mutations, which can also be inherited. Scientists have identified two genes in particular, BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 (breast cancer genes 1 and 2), which when mutated, can lead to breast cancer. Mutations in these genes can be passed from generation to generation, causing a familial risk of breast cancer. It is important to note that every woman possesses the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes. However it is when these genes are mutated, that breast cancer can occur. Anyone with a strong family history of breast cancer, should strongly consider being tested to see if you carry the mutated forms of these genes.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|