Mutations in normal breast tissue and breast tumours.
The accumulation of mutations is a feature of all normal cells. The probability of any individual gene in any cell acquiring a mutation is, however, low. Cancer is therefore a rare disease in comparison with the number of susceptible cells. Mutations in normal tissue are stochastic, vary widely among cells and are therefore difficult to detect using standard methods because each change is so rare. If, however, a tissue such as the breast undergoes considerable clonal expansion, particularly if relatively late in life, normal tissue may have accumulated many thousands of detectable mutations. Since breast cancers are clonal and have almost certainly undergone many more cell divisions than normal cells, each tumour may have many millions of mutations, most of which are entirely innocent and some of which have accumulated in the cell of origin prior to tumorigenesis. Despite some claims to the contrary, even at normal mutation rates, clonal expansion within a tumour is quite sufficient to account for the mutations of five or six genes that are generally supposed necessary for carcinogenesis to occur. Hypermutability does, however, contribute to the pathogenesis of many cancers and, although evidence is indirect in breast cancer, may take forms such as karyotypic instability via centrosome amplification.