Researchers Uncovers A Breastfeeding Mechanism That May Affect Breast cancer

According to a new study, a normal mechanism that helps the breast adjust to breastfeeding could cause buildup of pre-malignant breast cells.

A woman’s risk of developing breast cancer is higher immediately after pregnancy and childbirth, according to the National Cancer Institute.

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However, the risk is momentary, and researchers feel that breastfeeding lowers the chances of developing breast cancer. Only about 3 percent of women with breast cancer develop the condition during breastfeeding.

The new study helps explain the connection between breastfeeding and breast cancer, as scientists reveal how a molecular mechanism that is a natural part of the breastfeeding process can be nicked by breast cancer cells and used to help them persist.

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An assistant professor at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C., Anni Warri, led the new study, which was published in the journal Cell Death Discovery.

Wärri and the team set out to study the supposed process of autophagy (self-degradative process which achieves vital housekeeping functions). It helps remove dysfunctional proteins and cellular waste. The process of autophagy is largely seen as a mechanism of survival; some studies have proposed that it prevents the formation of tumors.

Senior author Robert Clarke, the co-director of the Breast Cancer Program at Georgetown Lombardi and the dean for research at Georgetown University Medical Center said that the role of autophagy in both the normal physiology of mammary glands and in breast cancer has remained vague.

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According to Clarke, “It had not been known how this critical transition between ductal cell survival or death was controlled. Earlier studies had focused on a different pathway — apoptosis, a different form of cell death.”

The researchers show that autophagy helps control whether the cells that provided milk during breastfeeding will survive or die after the breastfeeding period.

Wärri explains, “The study, for the first time, identifies the molecular switch — the unfolded protein response (UPR), which triggers autophagy — that controls the fate of milk-producing breast cells.”

“We show that the apoptosis pathway is separate from the UPR/autophagy switch, although the processes clearly work together.”

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