This review summarizes methods related to the study of human breastmilk in etiologic and biomarkers research. Despite the importance of reproductive factors in breast carcinogenesis, factors that act early in life are difficult to study because young women rarely require breast imaging or biopsy, and analysis of critical circulating factors (e.g., hormones) is often complicated by the requirement to accurately account for menstrual cycle date. Accordingly, novel approaches are needed to understand how events such as pregnancy, breastfeeding, weaning, and post-weaning breast remodeling influence breast cancer risk. Analysis of breastmilk offers opportunities to understand mechanisms related to carcinogenesis in the breast, and to identify risk markers that may inform efforts to identify high-risk women early in the carcinogenic process. In addition, analysis of breastmilk could have value in early detection or diagnosis of breast cancer. In this article, we describe the potential for using breastmilk to characterize the microenvironment of the lactating breast with the goal of advancing research on risk assessment, prevention, and detection of breast cancer.
Keywords: Biomarkers; Breast cancer; Human breastmilk; Methods; Prevention.