Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Breast Milk and Risk of Cancer

I made mention of the word epigenetic in last week's blog and it's showing up again. As we know more and more about genes, we see a new vocabulary along with much new information. Reasearchers at the University of Massachusetts did a small ( 250 women ) study that indicates the ability to diagnose future breast cancer by screening breast milk. Sounds like science fiction but it could be a remarkable tool for diagnosticians evaluating breast cancer risks.

These reasearchers were able to isolate epigenetic signals( which tell the body which genes to express ) from DNA found in the epithelial cells in breast milk. Biopsies from both breasts revealed methylation ( the epigenetic response ) in three genes which suppresses the expression of the gene. So, the risk of breast cancer is more likely to occur because the tumor-suppressing proteins are not produced.

Comparing these samples and the women who were diagnosed with breast cancer, there was a significant increase in the epigenetic signal. This points to the day when we may be able to predict from breast milk, who is at greater risk for breast cancer. We know that studies indicate that women who breast feed reduce their risk of breast cancer and now we find another correlation. Interesting.....