If you are interested in donating breastmilk for this research effort, please visit the UMass Breastmilk Lab website to learn about current studies!
Could your breastmilk hold clues to the prevention and treatment of breast cancer?
It’s a question under active investigation by at the University of Massachusetts. And this Breast Cancer Awareness month you may be able to help by donating your milk!
Breast cells are key in breast cancer research, but they’re really hard to get. You can get a limited number through biopsy or extracting nipple aspirate (ouch!), but neither of these methods sound like much fun to most women. They also have limitations: breast biopsies only yield cells in a very small area of a breast, and nipple aspirate produces very few cells for analysis.
But breastmilk is a gold mine of breast cells, and they come from all areas of the breast.
Using DNA analysis, scientists can now extract DNA from these cells and look for patterns of “methylation” – methyl groups that attach to key parts of our DNA which are thought to regulate its functioning in important ways that affect our breast cancer risk.
This research has already yielded some important results which may pave the way for a personalized breast cancer risk profile for each woman. It also may lead to new treatments to reverse methylation and prevent breast cancer.
But to continue this success, more breastmilk donations are needed. In particular, more samples are needed from women living anywhere in the country who are 1) African American, OR 2) who have had a breast biopsy while nursing, OR 3) women who have had breast cancer and can donate fresh or frozen milk. To learn more about donating, you can visit the research website.
Why African American women? Because past donations have overwhelmingly come from white women, and it’s important that findings from this research apply to ALL women. African American women also have a different pattern of breast cancer than other women, and this research may help uncover why.
If you don’t meet these criteria but still want to contribute to breast cancer research, please consider signing up for the Love/Avon Army of Women, and be sure to select “breast milk study” in the drop down menu to help us track our impact.