Can Our Hair Reveal Breast CAncer?

Could hair tests someday provide a viable alternative to mammograms? An Australian research consortium is exploring the possibility after discovering that hair from women with breast cancer had a different cell structure to hair from women without the disease.

The technology being tested is a synchrotron particle accelerator, an x-ray machine that bombards hair strands (rather than our breasts) with x-rays. The pattern produced by the x-rays is described as a series of arcs, while in people with breast cancer a distinctive ring is superimposed on top of the arcs.

It turns out that the first published study reporting this promising technology was back in 1999, in the journal Nature. Unfortunately, other researchers were unable to reproduce the results and so the work continued. Since then, the original authors have determined that other researchers were unable to reproduce their results either because they were using hair damaged by dyes or other chemicals, or because hairs were either stretched or wrongly aligned under the beam.

An especially interesting finding in that original study was that all the hair samples from women who tested positive for a mutation of the BRCA1 gene, showed the same hair changes as those with breast cancer.

Some might be inclined to dismiss such research as pie-in-the-sky thinking, but my guess is that this is no more pie-in-the-sky than dreaming the breast cancer vaccine. I’ll happily eat my pie in the sky! Have you ever heard about this promising test?

Susan Beausang, 4Women.com

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