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Following Milk

Understanding the temporarily increased risk of breast cancer on ceasing breast-feeding

21 August 2022

Following Milk

In addition to a bundle of joy, pregnancy and childbirth bring major changes to the body, but many aspects revert to their original state afterwards. Once any breastfeeding is done, the milk-producing mammary gland steps back through a carefully controlled course of cell death and resource reallocation. During this process, called involution, women have a temporarily increased risk of breast cancer. To investigate why, researchers took mouse glands at different stages of the process (pink, after one day, with immune cells in blue) and implanted tumour cells. Tumours injected at day 3 of involution grew faster than in mice that had never given birth, but those implanted at day 6 grew more slowly. Unpicking these details will help understand the increased risk. The study also found changes in immune cell activity during the process, which may have significance for the use of anti-inflammatory treatments for breast cancers in new mothers.

Written by Anthony Lewis

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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