Breast Milk May Serve as Personalized Breast Cancer Screen, Study Says
New research suggests breast milk, in addition to the more sophisticated and invasive biopsies and screens, can uncover the earliest signs of breast cancer, according to researchers at the American Association for Cancer Research.
Breast cancer risk can be determined by examining the cells from the breast, says Kathleen Arcaro, a professor of veterinary and animal sciences at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst in a news release presented at the organization's annual convention in Florida this week.
Her team of researchers studied 250 women in 41 states who were deemed at high risk for breast cancer. The women also were nursing and agreed to provide breast milk for the study, Arcaro says in the release. The fresh samples were processed within 24 hours of expression.
Researchers relied on a growing body of data that shows the DNA of malignant cells take on a distinct epigenetic profile as a result of a molecular process known as methylation, Arcaro says. These methyl groups attach to DNA to turn genes on or off, and, in cancer cells, more of these groups bind to the DNA.
"Although the sample size in this study is small, "it's sufficient to tell us that we can use the cells in breast milk to assess breast cancer risk," Arcaro says in the release. Additional studies are needed to expand the results, she adds.
Breast cancer screenings of every woman who gives birth in a hospital is the long-term goal, Arcaro says in the release.
"We'll take a little sample of colostrum, and we'll tell her how her breasts are doing," she says in the release. "It's totally noninvasive, potentially inexpensive and really accurate."