Breast milk can be a new tool for early detection of breast cancer

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A groundbreaking study by the Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology (VHIO) in Barcelona suggests that breast milk from women with breast cancer contains circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA).

This ctDNA, detectable through liquid biopsy in breast milk, could potentially offer a new, non-invasive way to diagnose breast cancer early, particularly during the postpartum period.

Why This Matters

Breast cancer diagnosed during pregnancy or the postpartum period tends to be more aggressive and is often detected at a more advanced stage, leading to a worse prognosis.

The researchers found that liquid biopsies from breast milk were more sensitive than blood samples for detecting ctDNA.

This discovery may lead to more effective early detection methods, especially for young mothers and women at high risk.

How It Began

The study was inspired by a concerned breast cancer patient who wondered if she could have transferred cancerous cells to her child through breastfeeding.

Though breast cancer is not transmitted this way, researchers decided to investigate whether breast milk could still provide some clues for cancer diagnosis.

They found ctDNA in the patient’s frozen breast milk that matched the mutations in her tumor.

The Findings

Researchers used Next-Generation Sequencing (NGS) and Droplet Digital PCR (ddPCR) to examine breast milk and blood samples from women diagnosed with breast cancer during pregnancy or postpartum, as well as from healthy breastfeeding women.

They detected ctDNA in the breast milk of 13 out of 15 patients but only in the blood of one, showcasing the milk’s potential for early detection.

Future Steps

VHIO aims to conduct a large-scale study involving 5,000 women worldwide who became pregnant at age 40 or older, or who carry mutations increasing their breast cancer risk.

The goal is to confirm these preliminary findings and to develop a reliable screening method based on them.

The Takeaway

While these results are promising, more research is needed to validate them and to standardize the testing procedure.

Nonetheless, this study opens the door to a new, non-invasive diagnostic tool that could save lives by detecting breast cancer at its earliest, most treatable stage.

“Before this technique can be put into practice, these results need to be confirmed in a larger number of patients, but the results published to date are encouraging,” concludes Dr. Cristina Saura, head of VHIO’s Breast Cancer Group.

“The best way to continue to increase the survival and cure of breast cancer patients is to detect it as early as possible, and this is a new strategy that could greatly help us in this regard.”

If you care about breast cancer, please read studies about Fewer lymph node surgeries could help people with breast cancer and findings of Scientists find new treatment approach for breast cancer.

For more information about breast cancer, please read studies about stuff in sunscreen may play a role in breast cancer development, and when you eat your meals may help reduce breast cancer risk.

The research findings can be found in Cancer Discovery.

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