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Keywords:

  • breast cancer;
  • mammary lipid;
  • human milk;
  • genotoxicity;
  • mutagenicity

Abstract

Epidemiological studies indicate the involvement of environmental factors in the etiology of breast cancer, but have not provided clear indications of the nature of the agents responsible. Several environmental carcinogens are known to induce mammary tumors in rodents, and the abundance of adipose tissue in the human breast suggests that the epithelial cells, from which breast tumors commonly arise, could be exposed to lipid-soluble carcinogens sequestered by the adipose tissue. In this report we review our studies in which we have examined human mammary lipid, obtained from elective reduction mammoplasties from healthy donors, and human milk from healthy mothers, for the presence of components with genotoxic activity in several in vitro assays. A significant proportion of lipid extracts induced mutations in bacteria and micronuclei in mammalian cells. They also caused DNA damage, detected as single-strand breaks in the alkaline single-cell gel electrophoresis (comet) assay, in both the MCL-5 cell line and in primary cultures of human mammary epithelial cells. Genotoxic activity was also found in a significant proportion of extracts of human breast milk. Viable cells recovered from milk samples showed evidence of DNA damage and were susceptible to comet formation by genotoxic agents in vitro. Genotoxic activity was found to be less prevalent in milk samples from countries of lower breast cancer incidence (the Far East) compared with that in samples from the UK. The agents responsible for the activity in milk appear to be moderately polar lipophilic compounds and of low molecular weight. Identification of these agents and their sources may hold clues to the origins of breast cancer. Environ. Mol. Mutagen. 39:143–149, 2002. © 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.