Introduction Cancer is a word that strikes fear into the hearts of many. It's a disease that affects millions of people worldwide and has taken countless lives. Understandably, there's a strong concern and curiosity about how it develops, especially when it comes to the role of genetics. Many people believe that carrying a certain gene, like the BRCA 2 gene, means that developing cancer is a given. However, this common misconception overlooks the complex relationship between genes and cancer. Let’s explore gene expression and explain why carrying a specific gene doesn't automatically mean you will develop cancer. In addition, we’ll discuss what you can do if you test positive for a gene mutation.
The Blueprint of Human Genetic Data
The human genome is like a gigantic blueprint that contains all the information necessary to build and maintain a human being. It consists of twenty thousand-ish genes, each with its own specific set of instructions. These genes determine various traits, from eye color to height, and also play an important role in the development of diseases, including cancer.
The Role of Mutations
Cancer often begins when there are changes or mutations in specific genes. Mutations can occur all on their own due to DNA replication errors, exposure to environmental factors (such as radiation or certain chemicals), or even through inheritance. In some cases, individuals may carry mutations in these genes from birth, which can lead to an increased risk of cancer. However, having a mutated gene is not synonymous with developing cancer.
The Importance of Gene Expression
Gene expression, in simple terms, is the process by which information stored in our genes is used by our cells to make proteins. It's important to understand that the existence of a mutated gene does not guarantee that it will be expressed and lead to cancer. Gene expression is a complex process influenced by various factors ranging from environment to hormones.
Factors Affecting Gene Expression
Epigenetics: Epigenetic, which literally translates to “above genetics”, refers to a modification that can control whether a gene is turned on or off. These adjustments can be influenced by lifestyle choices and environmental factors. They can ultimately “silence” mutated genes or even create protective genes.
Lifestyle and Environment: Diet, exercise, smoking, and exposure to carcinogens can all influence gene expression. Something as simple as taking into account your place of work, or where you spend the majority of your time, can give you insight into whether you need to make a change. Making healthy choices and avoiding harmful behaviors can reduce the risks associated with certain gene mutations.
Genetic Variation: Not all mutations are equally harmful. Some may have a very small impact on gene function, while others can be more invasive.
Genetic variation among individuals means that the same mutation can have different outcomes for different people.
Gene Expression and BRCA 2 Mutations:
Gene expression is like the recipe for making a specific protein, and in the case of the BRCA 2 gene, this protein helps keep our DNA in good shape. However, when there's a BRCA 2 mutation, it's like having a faulty recipe and the protein doesn't get made correctly. This can make it harder for our bodies to repair DNA damage, which increases the risk of certain cancers, like breast and ovarian cancer. So, gene expression for BRCA 2 is all about whether or not our cells can follow the right recipe to keep our DNA healthy and prevent cancer. Factors outside the body, such as lifestyle and environment can have an impact on this, as well.
BRCA 2 and What to Do:
We’ve already learned that having a mutated gene does not mean that your body will express it and that it will lead to cancer. So, if you test positive for a gene mutation, such as BRCA 2, what should your next steps be? In our MOJO Rising podcast Oncologist Sreekanth Reddy, and Herbalist Oscar Sierra strongly suggest being a Data G to get the whole picture and make an informed decision.
Collect a full family history. Who in your family has or had cancer? What specific type of cancer? How old were those family members when diagnosed?
Pause and gather more patient data. Some tests include: breast MRI, pelvic ultrasound and blood or urine tests to identify oxidative markers. It’s important to get a baseline of data.
Consider your lifestyle, mental and environmental stressors and your diet. What changes can you make to live healthier?
Don’t be alarmed. Tumors tend to grow over years and years. Taking a couple months to gather and analyze data is in your best interest to be able to make an informed decision.
Carrying a certain gene with a mutation associated with cancer doesn't guarantee that you will develop the disease. Gene expression is a complex process influenced by numerous factors, including epigenetic data, lifestyle choices, and genetic variation. While genetics does play a role in cancer risk, it is just one piece of the puzzle. Understanding this enables us to make informed decisions about our health and take proactive steps to reduce our cancer risk through all around healthy living. It's important to remember that our genes are not our destiny. Our choices and environments can absolutely, and positively, impact our health outcomes.