Kathleen Arcaro studies breast milk to gain insight into the causes and development of breast cancer. Breast milk can provide both a glimpse into the health of the breast and a record of a lifetime of environmental exposures. Many persistent and biologically active pollutants concentrate in fat and are therefore present in breast milk. Dr. Arcaro’s research demonstrates that while the levels of pollutants of emerging concern, including synthetic musks, new flame retardants, and the plasticizer, bisphenol A are increasing in breast milk, the levels of banned substances including several pesticides and poly chlorinated biphenyls are decreasing. The levels of pollutants in breast milk are of concern because they can affect the health of the baby and the mother. Dr. Arcaro’s focus is on the health of the mother’s breast. Importantly, breast milk also contains millions of cells that once lined the inside of the mammary gland. The DNA of these epithelial cells can be altered by exposure to pollutants as well as by our diet. During her year as a Family Research Scholar, Dr. Arcaro will develop a grant proposal for the project entitled, “Dietary Intervention to Reduce Breast Cancer Risk.” The larger aim of her research is to investigate how to reduce breast cancer morbidity and associated mortality, and the specific goal of this project is to determine whether a diet rich in a compound present in broccoli sprouts, sulforaphane, can reduce breast cancer risk. Dr. Arcaro will examine the exfoliated epithelial cells in breast milk to assess how changes in diet can alter or reverse the chemical tags present on DNA that increase the risk of developing breast cancer.
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