Imagine if something as simple as breast milk could be a predictor for breast cancer risk
. According to a new study, it just might happen one day. Kathleen Arcaro, professor of veterinary and animal sciences at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst, states that breast milk might prove just as useful as the traditional screens and biopsies currently used when searching for the earliest signs of breast cancer. What’s good for babies
could turn out to be a very good thing for moms, too.The study.
The preliminary results of an ongoing study of 250 women in 41 states are in. All of these women have a high risk of breast cancer. Some have already had breast tissue biopsies and others plan to. All are currently nursing and agreed to provide breast milk for the study.
Arcaro decided to look at breast milk because it contains millions of cells shed from different areas of the breast. For this reason, breast milk would be a significant indicator of any cancerous activity going on.
The DNA from cells in the breast milk was examined in hopes it could provide clues to a woman’s potential risk for breast cancer. What they discovered was that there were more changes in DNA within certain genes inside these breast tissue cells that turn cancerous. Specifically, the research team was looking for the presence of methylation–a process where methyl groups attach to the DNA structure and activate or deactivate the gene. In cancer cells, there is a greater presence of methyl groups that bind to DNA. A totally noninvasive option.
By confirming the presence of methylation in breast milk cells, it may be possible to formulate an idea of just how potentially cancerous a woman’s breast tissue may be. This is particularly significant because methylation occurs in the early stages of cancer. If women know their methylation status, they are much better equipped to take steps to reduce their cancer risk.
Since more women are delaying childbirth and cancer risk increases with age, the results of the study will have the biggest impact on pregnant or nursing women. Mammograms
do not provide an accurate picture in breastfeeding women. After more studies are conducted, it could be that breast milk screening would be the ultimate option for all mothers giving birth. Not only that, but they could be screened for breast cancer before they even leave for home with their baby. This totally noninvasive, less expensive, and accurate method of screening could be available to about 80% of women who give birth.