AMHERST, Mass., April 10 (UPI) -- In the future, a personalized assessment of breast cancer risk may be calculated by examining epithelial cells in breast milk, U.S. researchers suggest.
Environmental toxicologist Kathleen Arcaro of University of Massachusetts Amherst says because about 80 percent of women give birth, non-invasively testing their breast milk for early indicators of elevated breast cancer risk would provide screening for a majority of women at an earlier age.
Arcaro and colleagues collected breast milk samples from about 250 women nationwide who were scheduled for or who had already had a breast biopsy.
The researchers looked for evidence of an epigenetic response called methylation -- inhibit or suppress -- in three genes: RASSF1, GSTP1 and SFRP1. The first two genes help in tumor suppression; the last makes a detoxification protein. Early detection of methylation in breast tissue is a key in preventing cancer, Arcaro says.
Arcaro and colleagues compared methylation levels in cells from biopsied versus non-biopsied breasts and observed greater methylation in the biopsied breast samples.
"This methylation means that the helpful, tumor-suppressing genes are silenced, putting the woman at higher risk of developing breast cancer," Arcaro says in a statement. "This in itself is not enough, we need to look at a larger panel of genes."
Arcaro presented the findings at the American Association for Cancer Research's 102nd annual meeting in Orlando, Fla.