Ovarian cancer is the deadliest gynecological cancer. Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed in women.
Whether you’ve recently been diagnosed, know someone with cancer, or want to learn about ways to reduce your risk of cancer, here’s a basic overview to help you better understand how cancer affects the body. Below you will find more detailed information on breast and ovarian cancer.
Breast Cancer Overview
Ovarian Cancer Overview
What is cancer?
Our bodies are composed of trillions of cells, each with a specific purpose and function. They are the building blocks of the human body. Each cell has a program for when it divides to make more cells. If this program breaks down so that the stop and go signals for cell division don’t work like they’re supposed to, cells can grow uncontrollably to cause cancer. Cancer is uncontrolled cell growth that interferes with the normal function of the body.
Breast cancers are cancers that start in one of several types of cells found in breast tissue. Most breast cancers are carcinomas, meaning that the tumor developed from a specific cell type called epithelial cells, but there are other breast cancer subtypes that develop from different kinds of breast cells. Many, but not all, types of breast cancer form lumps, so it is important to get regular mammograms which can detect breast cancers that don’t form lumps and can also detect cancers at an earlier stage. Importantly, most breast lumps are benign (non-cancerous) and are therefore nonthreatening, but all breast lumps should be checked by a healthcare professional. Every time a cell divides, there’s a chance that mutations will be created that change the stop and go signals for the cell’s division. Most of the time these mutations are caught and fixed. Once in a while, one of these mutations doesn’t get fixed and this can lead to loss of control of how the cell divides and grow and result in cancerous growth.
Ovarian cancers can originate from cells in the fallopian tubes or one of several cell types found in the ovary. There are many subtypes of ovarian cancer that can develop from different cell types and tissues, but the vast majority of ovarian cancers are epithelial tumors, meaning the tumor starts from the cells that cover the outer surface of the ovary. Ovarian tumors can be benign (non-cancerous and usually don’t lead to illness), borderline (slow growing and unlikely to spread outside the ovary), or malignant (cancerous).
Breast and ovarian cancer are often genetically linked. Mutations in many of the same genes — such as BRCA1 and BRCA2 — leads to a high risk for developing breast, ovarian, and other types of cancers. Being diagnosed with one of these cancers also increases the risk of being diagnosed with the other. The biggest risk factors for both diseases are being a woman and getting older, though younger women can be diagnosed with either disease.
What causes cancer?
Cancer is a genetic disease. This means that genetic mutations in a number of genes lead to a breakdown of the cell’s stop and go signals for cell division to cause cancer. This can happen due to normal cell metabolism as described above in anyone. However, some individuals have gene mutations inherited from mom or dad that can increase the risk of cancer forming. Two well-known genes that are found mutated in families with high incidence of ovarian and breast cancer are BRCA1 and BRCA2. Individuals with mutations in BRCA1 or BRCA2 are more likely to acquire mutations that disrupt the stop and go signals for cell division, hence increasing the risk of cancer. Though BRCA1 and BRCA2 are the most common genes mutated in familial ovarian and breast cancer, research has identified mutations in at least 17 other genes that increase the risk of ovarian, breast, both, or other types of cancers. Most of these genes are known to interact with each other in a common cellular pathway known as homologous recombination. Individuals who have family history of ovarian and/or breast cancer but do not have a known gene mutation are still considered to be at high risk
1 in 8
will get breast cancer
1 in 75
of ovarian and breast cancer is hereditary
Ovarian cancer survivor
“My niece has the BRCA mutation and lost her mom at age 42 from breast cancer. Her courage inspired me to contact the Rivkin Center when I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.”
Breast cancer survivor
“Early detection made a huge difference in my treatment and my survival.”
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