You may have heard about a study released at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) annual meeting on how breast milk could one day be used to screen for breast cancer. What you may not know is how they found these unique participants.The data presented at the AACR meeting found that epithelial cells in breast milk could help doctors predict breast cancer risk and screen for the disease. One hope, said researcher Kathleen F. Arcaro, PhD, is that by looking at the epigenetic information in these cells, and specifically certain genes, we could screen new mothers for breast cancer simply by examining the colostrum (first milk secreted after birth) -- a potentially inexpensive and noninvasive screening technique.One interesting point about the study is where did they find their test subjects? You have to admit that the eligibility criteria were pretty unique. The study investigators called for women who either recently had a breast biopsy or were scheduled to have one in the near future and were breastfeeding. These weren't patients looking for a treatment option, and they weren't considered individuals who were at high-risk for breast cancer looking for ways to prevent the disease. They were just average women who want to help further cancer research.In any other setting, the trial would never have gotten off the ground. With only about 3 to 5 percent of cancer patients involved in clinical trials and roughly a third of cancer clinical trials are halted due to poor enrollment, the fact that this study was able to secure about 250 breastfeeding women who had a breast biopsy (and some women later diagnosed with breast cancer) was certainly a feat. If you're not familiar with the Army of Women (www.armyofwomen.org), it is a website sponsored by the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation and the Avon Foundation for Women. It has a goal of recruiting one million women for clinical trials focused on finding the causes of breast cancer and how to prevent it. The website provides a way for researchers to reach out to women interested in participating in these trials. Women who are not currently undergoing breast cancer treatment can sign up on the website and are then notified by email of select clinical trials, allowing them to choose whether to enroll or not. I heard Dr. Susan Love talk about this trial a couple of years ago at AACR when the study was just getting started. Love said they put the call out for women to join the study and had a great response, with women even offering to undergo a breast biopsy just to join the clinical trial. And once the researcher discovered she had easily reached her goal of 250 participants (which was first believed to be unrealistic), she asked for more.The trial is still ongoing and enrolling additional women. Here is the information from the website:The Milk Study: Using Breast Milk to Screen for Breast Cancer and Assess Breast-Cancer RiskThe purpose of this study is to determine if breast cancer and breast cancer risk can be accurately assessed from a breast milk sample. Currently, there is no accurate way to give women information about their personal risk of developing breast cancer. We will use the cells naturally present in breast milk to examine changes in DNA that occur in association with benign and cancerous breast lesions. Learning about the genetic changes associated with both breast cancer and non-cancerous breast lesions will help us develop a way to provide women with information about their breast cancer risk. Using breast milk to screen for breast cancer will reduce unnecessary biopsies among nursing women.Who Can Participate? You can join the Milk Study if you are:
• Currently NURSING/BREAST-FEEDING a baby AND
• You are either GOING TO HAVE A BREAST BIOPSY in the near future or you HAVE HAD A BREAST BIOPSY in the past.What Does Participation Involve? You will be shipped a milk collection container, informed consent form, and questionnaire. You will be asked to complete the consent form and questionnaire and to donate about 2.5 ounces of fresh breast milk from each breast. You will put the consent form, questionnaire, and breast milk in a box that will be picked up by Fed-Ex. You will be asked to provide a copy of the biopsy report. Approximately 1 year after sending your breast milk sample, the researcher will contact you to ask about any breast problems you have had in the last year.You can also read more about the breastfeeding studies here. It's a pretty unique study and one that will probably produce some interesting results. The fact that Army of Women has been able to generate interest in this study shows we have entered a new era of clinical study. Currently researchers actively look for participants, even paying recruiting companies and advertising firms to find participants. Imagine the money and energy that could be redirected if people, in turn, came to the researcher. So, bravo to the researchers, Army of Women and all those women who have enrolled in the study. While we commend those of you who run, walk, and raise money for breast cancer research, joining this type of clinical study earns its own reward in the fight against cancer.