Cancer is a disease that comes from normal cells dividing and mutating abnormally. Often with cancer there is a specific genetic defect that causes the disease, and one, in particular, has been connected to colon cancer, gastric cancer, breast cancer, endometrial cancer, lung cancer and gliomas.
This defect is a mutation of the PIK3CA gene. This gene is responsible for a plethora of administrative tasks in each cell. These tasks range from the ability to intake nutrients, survival, cell differentiation, cell reproduction, and cell growth. Naturally, such an important gene’s failure is a serious problem that often results in a cell simply dying. In the case of some mutations, however, the cell can carry on and become cancerous. It’s this type of outcome scientists hope to learn more about in the near future.
What is PIK3CA?
PIK3CA is a gene for cells that manages cell survival and reproduction. It is an important gene and often its defect results in a cell that is quickly and efficiently destroyed by the body or dies on its own. In the case that it does not kill the cell, however, PIK3CA becomes one of the most efficient cancer genes, or oncogenes, around. It is linked to several types of cancers, foremost among them is breast cancer. In breast cancer, PIK3CA is the 2nd most frequently mutated oncogene.
The Monumental Step in Knowing Cancer’s Roots
For many years the question of what causes cancer has gone unanswered, leading to numerous failed theories and progress stalling disagreements among scholars. Locating these specific genes such as PIK3CA has helped move the discussion forward so that new treatments can be discovered and employed. These new treatments can vary in how they operate, but it typically works by inhibiting the gene in question from being expressed fully. Once inhibited, tumor growth can be stunted because the mutated genes are just as important to cancer cells as their unmutated counterparts.
What makes PIK3CA significant?
In breast cancer, PIK3CA mutations account for just over 33% of all cases. Since 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer in their life, the amount is significant as it means 1 in 24 women will have a PIK3CA mutation. This means that 6.8 million Americans will have this specific mutation involved in their breast cancer diagnosis. With new treatments aimed at targeting specific genes within a cancer, those 6.8 million people would now have an avenue of treatment that could yield much higher success than other methods. Gene targeting can be a less invasive method of treatment as well, meaning less loss of life quality while treatment is in progress. Targeted treatments like this are like precision strikes in warfare: Why burn down the whole city (affect an entire person’s body, for better or worse) when you can take one quick shot at the bad guy (the cancer itself)?
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