Picture this: You're breastfeeding. You notice a lump. First maybe you think it's a plugged duct. But then it doesn't go away, after many, many feedings. You're worried about it, so you make an appointment with your doctor, who doesn't think it's related to breastfeeding. She sends you for a mammogram, but you're told that you'll have to have weaned for six months before the test can be done. What do you do?*
I've mentioned before that I'm involved in a powerful research project based at the University of Massachusetts, and supported by the Love/Avon Army of Women breast cancer project.
I'd like to explain more about it now, and ask for your help in recruiting participants for it.
It's probably news to most of us (it was to me) that when you make milk, cells from your milk ducts are exfoliated off in the process. These are called epithelial cells, and they're detectable in your milk.
Past research has demonstrated that long before we 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. She's been nice enough to visit a breastfeeding group I run, and answer 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 our breast cancer risk through our 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, as some are, 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 have either had, or are expecting to have, a biopsy. To participate, you'd overnight milk samples to her lab, at no cost to you, and receive $25 in thanks.
So if you, or someone you know, is both breastfeeding and scheduled for a biopsy, please ask them to email either Dr. Sarah Lennington as soon as possible. You can visit the project's website to learn more.
If you write a blog or are in contact with lots of moms on a forum, please pass this link around!
And if you haven't done it yet, register for the Love/Avon Army of Women. You'll join one million women volunteering to become part of a rich pool of women researchers can use to find the causes and prevention of breast cancer. You can see other participating studies on the site. Here's a recent Today Show clip on the project.
* Mammograms can be done on lactating breasts, but they are viewed as less accurate than on non-lactating breasts. Some doctors will do them, others require mothers to wean first. Some send mothers for ultrasounds.