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Could Breastmilk Reveal a Predisposition to Breast Cancer?

Nov 18, 2020, 23:14 PM by Sansum Clinic


Ridley-Tree Cancer Center fellowship-trained breast surgeon Katrina Mitchell,  MD, IBCLC, FACS, is participating in a groundbreaking project that will look at whether breastmilk could demonstrate a predisposition to breast cancer. Dr. Mitchell is joining forces with University of Massachusetts-Amherst cancer researchers on a study that will examine breastmilk from nursing women who have a pathogenic BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic mutation. Women who have these genetic mutations face a significant risk, even at a young age, of breast and ovarian cancer. No fully-effective breast cancer screening method currently exists for nursing mothers in this high-risk group. New mothers, and to a greater extent those with a BRCA mutation, also face an increased risk of pregnancy-associated breast cancer (PABC), which can be aggressive for about a decade postpartum. “Breastmilk is a fascinating biospecimen with potential to change our approach to the early detection of breast cancer,” explains Dr. Mitchell.

Through the examination of breastmilk cells, the hope is to uncover profiles that may identify risk of breast disease. The research team hopes to ultimately develop a new, noninvasive test that would use women’s breastmilk to detect breast cancer in its earliest stages. “Breastmilk essentially provides a liquid biopsy of the entire breast,” says lead researcher Kathleen Arcaro, PhD from the UMass Breastmilk Lab. “We hope to better understand breast tumor development and progression in these at-risk women.”

The study is recruiting participants from across the U.S. through social media and with the help of breast surgeons and lactation specialists like Dr. Mitchell. Women will provide breastmilk and saliva samples, and their BRCA test results. They’ll need to complete a health questionnaire and agree to annual, long-term follow-up. A control group with neither a BRCA mutation nor multiple close relatives with breast cancer is also being recruited. The research is supported by a grant from the Department of Defense’s Breast Cancer Research Program.

In addition to recruiting participants, Dr. Mitchell will act as a clinical consultant and assist in manuscript writing. She has a longstanding, special interest in breastfeeding medicine. In addition to her breast surgical oncological fellowship training at MD Anderson Cancer Center, Dr. Mitchell is a board-certified lactation consultant and lectures nationally and internationally on topics related to lactation and breast cancer.

Breastfeeding Medicine

Our fellowship-trained breast surgeon and international board certified lactation consultant, Katrina Mitchell, MD, IBCLC, PMH-C, provides one-on-one lactation consulting to help mothers be more confident and overcome nursing challenges at any stage of their baby’s development.

Services available:

  • In person consultations and telehealth appointments. To learn more, visit or call (805) 682-7302.
  • A new online class, Breastfeeding Your Baby, is free of charge and open to the community.

To sign up, visit