Breast cancer

Data Reveals DNA Variations that Alter Breast Cancer Risk in Women

Data revealed 32 new sites on the human genome where variations in DNA appear to alter the risks of getting breast cancer, according to a study published in Nature Genetics.

This analysis of genetic studies covering 266,000 women is the first to link these specific risk variants to multiple, detailed subtypes of breast cancer.

“The findings from this analysis enhance our understanding of the biology that differentiates subtypes and may improve our ability to predict women’s breast cancer risks, even at the level of specific breast cancer subtype,” said corresponding author Nilanjan Chatterjee, PhD, in a press release.

Of the 32 new risk variants identified by researchers, 15 were also independently linked to 1 or more specific breast cancer subtypes. Of that specific set of 15 variants, 7 were linked to estrogen receptor status, 7 to tumor grade, 4 to HER2 receptor status, and 2 to progesterone receptor status.

Five of these newly identified subtype-specific risk variants are linked to greater risk for some breast cancer subtypes, but a lower risk in others.

The study incorporated data from over 100 breast cancer studies from the last 15 years found in the Breast Cancer Association Consortium. This analysis used new methods to identify DNA variants that have heterogeneous effects across subtypes. These DNA variants, such as Luminal-A and triple negative, can be defined by various tumor characteristics.

This data is paramount to the scientific understanding of the “genetic architecture” of breast cancer. Even more, this data will allow oncologists to calculate accurate risk scores for women based on their variant combinations.

“Each one of these variants has a small apparent effect on breast cancer risk, and there may be a substantial effect when a person has a combination of them,” Chatterjee said in a press release.

More than 250,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer annually in the United States, with over 40,000 deaths. Before the analysis, researchers had identified over 170 gene variants that either increase or lower risk of breast cancer.

The hope for the further identification of gene variants is to inform women as much as possible in regard to their likelihood of developing breast cancer. And if their risk is high, it allows women to be screened more frequently.

Moving forward, the researchers hope this data can open avenues to exploring the underlying biological pathways that drive cancer. How each risk-linked DNA variation impacts gene activity and signaling networks in cells is crucial information to identifying risk levels for women.

“These variants are special and if followed up properly may lead to important insights into the biology of these breast cancer subtypes,” Chatterjee said in a press release.

Breast cancer

Side Effects From Breast Cancer Treatments

Chemotherapy and radiation destroy breast cancer cells. But these treatments can also affect healthy cells and can change how you feel. They might cause:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Mouth sores
  • Hair loss
  • Weight gain
  • Early menopause
  • A higher risk of infections
  • Bleeding
  • Diarrhea

Medications and other therapies can help ease many of these side effects.

Loss of Appetite

Breast cancer treatment may make you feel not hungry, which can make it hard to get the nutrition you need. Try these tips to make sure you’re eating a healthy diet:

  • Eat a few small meals during the day instead of three large ones.
  • Try an “instant breakfast” mix or other nutritional shakes between meals.
  • Eat your largest meal of the day when you are most hungry.
  • Drink water or other beverages either a half hour before or after meals so they don’t make you too full.
  • Try moderate exercise to increase your appetite, as long as your doctor says it’s OK.

Nausea and Vomiting

Some — but not all — people getting cancer treatment will have nausea. It can happen right after treatment or a few days later. Ask your doctor about medications that can make you feel better. Also, keep track of when you’re nauseated. You may be able to spot patterns that can help you get ahead of the problem. Also:

  • Eat small meals more often and avoid greasy foods and citrus.
  • Try foods at room temperature instead of very hot or cold.
  • When you’re nauseated, try bland foods like crackers, gelatin, ice chips, rice, plain mashed potatoes, or applesauce.

Call your doctor if you have severe nausea or you’re vomiting a lot. If you throw up, wait an hour before you eat or drink anything. Then, begin with ice chips and gradually add foods. Chamomile, ginger root tea, or ginger ale can sometimes help settle your stomach.

Weakness and Fatigue

Many parts of cancer treatment can make you feel weak or tired, including the treatment itself, worry or depression, not eating, pain, and too few blood cells in your body.

  • Make sure you get enough rest. Sleep at least 8 hours a night, and try to lie down during the day to rest if you’re still tired. Avoid caffeine late in the day.
  • Exercise. Short walks can give you more energy. If you’re more active, you’ll rest better.
  • Save your energy for the things that are really important to you. Get help from family and friends with errands and other chores.
  • If you feel pain, let your doctor know. There are almost always treatments that can help.
  • Eat plenty of iron-rich foods, like lean meat, beans, dark, leafy vegetables, and iron-fortified cereals or pasta.
  • If your body has too few red blood cells, a condition called anemia, your doctor may recommend erythropoietin or darbepoetin, treatments that stimulate bone marrow to make red blood cells. You can get them by injection, which you can sometimes do on your own at home. If you get this treatment, your doctor will watch you to see if you have rashes, allergic reactions, and problems with blood pressure.

Mouth Soreness

Sometimes, breast cancer treatments can make your mouth or throat sore. Check with your doctor or dentist to see what can stop your pain.

  • Ask your doctor about drugs to ease mouth soreness.
  • Choose soft foods that won’t irritate your mouth, such as scrambled eggs, macaroni and cheese, pureed cooked vegetables, and bananas.
  • Cut food into small pieces.
  • Avoid citrus fruits, spicy or salty items, and rough foods.

Data Reveals DNA Variations that Alter Breast Cancer Risk in Women

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