Epidemiological and biochemical support for a theory on the cause and prevention of breast cancer

Med Hypotheses. 1991 Dec;36(4):389-96. doi: 10.1016/0306-9877(91)90018-t.


Damage to the breast epithelium by chemical carcinogens as products of oxygen free radical release can lead to fibroblast proliferation, hyperplasia of epithelium, cellular atypia and breast cancer. Chemical carcinogens may accumulate in breast fluid in the non-lactating breast consequent to superoxide free radical production which occurs via the adenosine triphosphate (ATP) hypoxanthine pathway. This pathway is initiated by hypoxia of local tissue. Under hypoxic conditions ATP is broken down to form hypoxanthine. Hypoxanthine itself is broken down to produce xanthine and then uric acid. This results in the production of superoxide free radicals, the products of which are carcinogenic. The development of localized hypoxia, which is central to this hypothesis, is caused by acinal gland distention from fluid secreted by raised prolactin levels in the absence of oxytocin. Stimulation of the nipple in a non-lactating breast may raise plasma oxytocin and lower plasma prolactin levels. Contraction of the myoepithelial cells of the breast under the influence of oxytocin would relieve distention of the acinal glands and thus reduce hypoxia and the generation of lipid peroxidoses as products of free radical damage. The epidemiology of breast fibrosis and cancer support the notion that lack of nipple stimulation over time may be a significant variable. A review of this literature linked with current biochemical work on fibrosis and carcinogenesis suggest that draining the breasts of the products of superoxide free-radical release by the encouragement of regular nipple erections may prevent such breast disease.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Breast / metabolism
  • Breast Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Breast Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Female
  • Free Radicals
  • Humans
  • Lactation
  • Models, Biological
  • Oxytocin / physiology
  • Prolactin / physiology
  • Reproduction


  • Free Radicals
  • Oxytocin
  • Prolactin