Breast Cancer on the Run in October: (Day 24) Microscopes, Receptors and DNA


Most breast cancer patients don’t see the pathologist or molecular researchers. They work in obscurity in back rooms evaluating cells or tissues from biopsies or surgical specimens. Or, they work in special research labs determining how cells function, how cancer develops. They look into microscopes rather than into a patient’s eyes.

37913It is hard to distinguish between the pathologist who evaluates our biopsies and the molecular researchers who do research on the parts of cells and their function and interactions. They work hand in glove.

But we are so dependent on them as surgeons and as clinicians. They tell us what we are dealing with and guides how we either treat or don’t treat a patient. We send them aspirates or core biopsies or surgical specimens, parts of patient’s bodies. And they unlock the keys to understand tumor biology.

Advances in chemistry and biology have given us estrogen and progesterone receptors on breast cells, discovered in the late 60s. They are immensely important to our understanding of breast cancer development and treatment. The receptors for growth factors influencing tumor growth has lead to new therapies.

The double helix was unveiled in 1954 and the human genome was mapped by the year 2003. Already in breast cancer we have seen genetic information identifying hereditary breast cancer risk (BRCA). All cellular elements connect back to a DNA source producing it.

So the surgical pathologist, building on the work of the molecular biologist and the biochemists, identifies and then classifies our tumors. We now receive reports on breast cancer specimens with multiple data points regarding the fine details of a tumor. From those many points of information, therapies are crafted and research is conducted.

From magnifying glasses to electron microscopes to receptors antibodies to a mutation on a gene, advancements in optics technology and biotechnology have collectively aided in our diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer and our understanding of biological behavior of breast cancer at the most basic level.

Breast cancer patients have benefitted mightily from these giants working in obscurity, dwelling in the world of microscopes and the tiniest of particles….



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