A small study out of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst recently released some interesting results. Researchers tested the epithelial cells found in breast milk and found that they could be used to determine a woman's risk for developing breast cancer.
The study looked at the breast milk of 250 women undergoing a breast biopsy, or tissue sample, to check for signs of cancer. Researchers looked for specific changes in three genes of the DNA of the breast cancer cells and found that in women whose biopsies revealed early signs of cancer, one of the genes was significantly altered. This change was not present in the breast milk of women with low-risk, non-proliferative breast abnormalities.
Though the study was small, the research team says its findings are strong enough to indicate that the cells present in a woman's breast milk showed genetic changes that are linked to the development of breast cancer. The researchers want to develop an in-hospital test that could be used immediately after a woman gives birth (even if she chooses not to breastfeed) that would screen her breasts for cancer. And since roughly 80 percent of women in the U.S. give birth, the test could provide a large majority of women with an early, inexpensive and noninvasive method of determining their breast cancer risk.