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Breast cells in breastmilk may offer insights into breast cancer

Future studies of these cells could provide insight into how breast cancer originates and how breastfeeding could protect some individuals.

(Hannah Flynn/ Medical News Today) –– The protective effect of breastfeeding against breast cancer has been known for some time. However, the mechanisms underlying this have remained unclear.

While mouse studies suggest this could be due to changes in the breast tissue that occur during and breastfeeding causing long lasting epigenetic changes, it has been difficult to investigate. This is because most breast tissue donors are people undergoing surgery and very few of these individuals would have been lactating.

During breastfeeding, some of the cells from the surface of the milk glands inside the breast are expelled into the breast milk itself. While it was not clear how much insight they could provide as scientists had previously assumed them to be dead or dying, a recent study by a team from the Wellcome-MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute (CSCI) and the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Cambridge, UK, has shown that these remain alive in the milk and can be isolated from expressed breast milk. (…)