Sex Saves Lives. Really.

Who knew?  Sex can save your life.

 It's really quite simple, but in its own way, beautiful.  Mixing our genes helps weed out gene mutations that cause disease.

You've probably been hearing about all these amazing discoveries scientists have been making about how mutations in our genes can lead to cancer and other diseases.  Mutations are the things that make our cells not do what they're supposed to.  Researchers have found mutations that lead to breast cancer, and though only about 10% of cancers are inherited, and there are hundreds of thousands of mutations that can lead to it, it's at least a start at identifying where cancer comes from, and how it starts. And, best of all, what to do if you have one, before it develops into cancer, like the test for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic mutation that tells a woman she is at high risk of breast cancer. 

Our predispositions to disease gradually decrease the more we mix our genetic material together, according to a new study, reports. This discovery was finally made possible by the availability in recent years of repositories of biological samples and genetic data from different populations around the globe.

As we reproduce, generation after generation, the exchange of genetic material between man and woman causes our species to evolve little by little. Chromosomes from the mother and the father recombine to create the chromosomes of their child (chromosomes are the larger building blocks of genomes). Scientists have known for some time, however, that the parents’ genomes don’t mix together in a uniform way. Chromosomes recombine frequently in some segments of the genome, while recombination is less frequent in others.

 Here's what the study found: the segments of the human genome that don’t recombine as often as others tend to carry a significantly greater proportion of the more disease-enabling genetic mutations. 

So, the more sex, the less chance of disease?  Not quite. 

Disease-enabling mutations are eventually ripped from our genetic code through sexual reproduction. But the process can potentially take many hundreds of generations, researchers say.

This discovery is noteworthy, scientists involved in the study say, because it gives us a better understanding of how we become more or less at risk of developing or contracting diseases.  From there to treatments or cures, or prevention, isn't that big a step.

I was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer almost 10 years ago.  Since that time, treatments have changed significantly.  My cancer had a 99% chance of not recurring, but unfortunately, I was in that 1%.  Because doctors at that time had no way of knowing which cancers were life-threatening, mine included, and which were not -- something they have a better idea about today -- they were often forced to take drastic steps.

Today, with a better knowledge of what certain mutations can or cannot lead to, treatments can be  modified.  Mine might even have been a "wait and see"situation because, while my first cancer was high grade (about to become invasive), my second was not.  I probably could have lived a normal life with the second cancer, without doing anything about it.  But back then, mutations -- and their meanings -- weren't quite as clear and doctors had no choice -- with a recurrence -- but to be very aggressive. 

The results of this study should speed up the discovery and identification of mutations associated with specific diseases, and researchers and health authorities will in turn be able to apply this new information to develop more effective treatments and prevention programs, according to those who worked on the study.

Am I angry this didn't come sooner, for me?  Not really.  Doctors did what they knew would make me live.  And I'm still here.  What's to be angry about that?  

 Deborah DiSesa Hirsch


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