New findings could prevent breast cancer

Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory released a new study which shows that mechanical pressure to breast tissue may help prevent breast cancers in women.

Researchers presented their findings to the annual meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology in San Francisco, California. The study was partially funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Breast cancer is a very serious disease in America and around the world. The American Cancer Society projections for US women this year say:

About 232,340 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women.

About 64,640 new cases of carcinoma in situ (CIS) will be diagnosed (CIS is non-invasive and is the earliest form of breast cancer).

About 39,620 women will die from breast cancer

In the Berkeley study, scientists applied force to malignant breast cell tissue using silicone. With time, investigators found that malignant cells eventually changed into more healthy-looking cells.

“We are showing that tissue organization is sensitive to mechanical inputs from the environment at the beginning stages of growth and development…an early signal, in the form of compression, appears to get these malignant cells back on the right track,” says lead researcher Daniel Fletcher, professor of bioengineering at Berkeley and faculty scientist at the Berkeley Lab.

Speaking of their findings, fellow researcher, Gautham Venugopalan, PhD, said:

“People have known for centuries that physical force can influence our bodies. When we lift weights, our muscles get bigger. The force of gravity is essential to keeping our bones strong. Here we show that physical force can play a role in the growth — and reversion — of cancer cells. Malignant cells have not completely forgotten how to be healthy; they just need the right cues to guide them back into a healthy growth pattern.” 

The Berkeley scientists realize the controversial nature of their findings. Nearly all previous research emphasizes the genetic components of cancer rather than any mechanical component.

So will simple at-home breast squeezing help prevent cancer?

“Compression, in and of itself, is not likely to be a therapy. But this does give us new clues to track down the molecules and structures that could eventually be targeted for therapies,” says lead researcher Daniel Fletcher.