October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. All of us know a woman who has battled or lost her life to breast cancer. Please take the time to do a self exam every month, even if you're breastfeeding. Although the chances are slim, you can still get breast cancer while nursing.
Unfortunately, if you find a lump you'll probably be told you need to wean your baby and stop all breastfeeding for 6 months before you can have a biopsy done. It's probably news to most of us (it was to me) that when you make milk, cells from your milk ducts exfoliate off in the process. These are called epithelial cells, and they're detectable in your milk.
Research has shown that long before you notice a lump, those epithelial cells start changing in ways that are precursors to the development of breast cancer.
Dr. Kathleen Arcaro, a UMass professor who studies breastfeeding and breast cancer risk wants to analyze those cells. Check out her answers to questions about breastfeeding and breast cancer.
The primary goal of her research is to determine if it's possible to create a non-invasive, early way of assessing breast cancer risk through breastmilk. If it's successful, it would also establish 'molecular biomarkers' for breast cancer risk.
An additional benefit to breastfeeding mothers is that we would not be told to wean before a mammogram or biopsy can be done. No more choosing between breastfeeding and a breast cancer test. It could be as simple and sending in a milk sample to a lab!
In order to conduct this research, Dr. Kathleen Arcaro needs to find 250 women who are both lactating and scheduled for a biopsy. To participate, you'd overnight milk samples to her lab, at no cost to you. If you or someone you know is in this situation, please contact Dr. Arcaro.