I consider the female body as a perfect work of art. The curves, the breasts (tatas), the soft facial profiles and the eyes capture my admiration. All of these characteristics add to the view of perfection. I am not alone in this regard; there have been many examples in history that have shown praise to the female body. Art such as Venus of Urbino, Study of a Kneeling Nude Girl, Venus and the Lute Player, Leda and the Swan and the statues of Aphrodite give tribute to women. These tributes to the female body has stood the test of time. Today it is no different.
Today we use science to protect the body of a woman. I am going to focus on the protection of the breasts which has affected a lot of women. Women go through annual breast exams to try to ensure early detection of breast cancer. These exams are not without worries or fears. It all begins with a self-evaluation of the breast. Each woman will do a self assessment by feeling for a lump, mass or something unusual. Once a possible mass is detected then comes the trip to the doctor’s office for further examination. The hope is that’s its nothing but everyone fears the worst: Breast Cancer.
There was a time when having breast cancer was a death sentence. There was no understanding, no treatment options other than chemotherapy and survival did not have a good prognosis. Today, breast cancer is treatable, we understand how it forms, how it spreads and there are medications that can cure breast cancer. There are support groups and organizations fighting to defeat breast cancer. One such drug that has increased the survival of breast cancer is called Herceptin (Trastuzumab).
Herceptin (Trastuzumab) is a cancer medication that interferes with the growth and spread of cancer cells in the body. Herceptin is a monoclonal antibody that is slowly injected into a vein through an IV and at times used in conjunction with chemotherapy. If you have ever heard of a monoclonal antibody then you know it is what your immune system uses to attack infections. This medication is an enhancement to your immune system that targets the HER2 mutation and alerts your body to treat it.
Before I explain how Herceptin works, a short explanation on how breast cancer cells develop is in order. Science has figured out that breast cancer (#breast cancer) is a result of a genetic mutation in the body. There are three major genetic mutations: CDH1, BRCA1 and BRCA2. There are also four main molecular sub types of breast cancer which are: luminal A, luminal B, HER2 (human epidermal growth factor receptor 2), triple negative-basal like. Herceptin is specifically used to treat HER2 mutations.
Don’t freak out if you don’t know what a HER2 mutation is. I will explain it in simple terms. Every person has DNA that defines who we are and how we are built. Within our DNA are chromosomes and within these chromosomes are regions called genes that are the master template for every type of cell in our bodies. To simplify the process, think of when you went to the local hardware store and tried to make a duplicate key. If you ever watched them do it, they take a key of similar shape and they insert into a copier. This copier, copies the shape of the original key (Gene) and grinds out the shape on the second key (protein). The design of both keys are exactly the same. Genes do the same thing of creating a copy. The process is not always perfect. Sometimes there are errors in the information transfer which are called mutations. Similarly if the copier goes too fast or a sudden movement, it will miss some of the bumps on the key.
So HER2 is a protein member of the epidermal growth factor receptor. Simply speaking it helps develop the ducts that are responsible for development of the mammary glands. So the mutation of this gene will actually over-express or create overgrowth in the form of clusters in cell membranes that may play a role in tumor growth. Because of this over-growth, this mutation will cause this type of breast cancer to be aggressive and spread rapidly. If it is not caught early, your chances of survival are reduced significantly. Herceptin treatment is based on HERs markers to target the cells that are quickly spreading. So Herceptin travels throughout your blood stream looking for these proteins. Once it finds these proteins, they will attack and attach themselves to these markers (mutations). Once attached, it will alert your body of a foreign intruder, kill it and remove it from your system.
We all know the outcome of not being treated for breast cancer. But the side effects of Herceptin are significant to consider. For starters there are the easy to manage side effects such as headaches, fevers, chills, sudden chest pain, wheezing, dry cough, hives, facial swelling, dizziness, nausea, weak and shortness of breath. The more serious side effect is the possibility of heart failure, especially if you have heart disease or if you are also receiving certain other cancer medicines. The second major warning is not to use this drug while pregnant, becoming pregnant or nursing. The science is not well understood as to whether trastuzumab passes into breast milk or if it could harm a nursing baby. It is known that it will create deformities in an unborn fetus. A point of consideration is that once you stop treatment, Herceptin stays in your blood stream for up to 7 additional months before it is clear.
Have you survived HER2 breast cancer?