How many people saw the headlines about squeezing your breasts to treat cancer? Sounded like something you’d hear in the same breath as putting onions out to catch the flu virus or treating a bee sting by taping a penny to the wound. But it was based on new research from the University of California at Berkeley, which reported that compressing malignant breast cells caused the cells to revert to normal.
So, true or false? The research is true. The headlines are not. In the excitement of both writing about cancer (which reporters seem to report breathlessly every couple of weeks, though it’s usually about something that causes it) and writing about breasts (OMG BOOBIES!!!!), it looks like a lot of journalists simply skimmed the original press release from the laboratory.
The headlines were unbelievable. Simply squeezing the breasts could treat cancer, or prevent it, depending on where you got your source. Hey, it’s science! Men (and some women) had fantasies of going to work in the new field of therapeutic breast massage. But while the story is based in truth, you have to go to the source to find it.
“All I know is just what I read in the papers, and that’s an alibi for my ignorance.”— Will Rogers
It sounded like the prelude to a joke. I could see men starting to carry “Official Breast Squeezer” badges, like the “Official Breast Examiner” ones that gag gift shops sell. It seemed that science had proven that squeezing the breasts would cause cancer cells to revert to non-cancer cells. It also sounded too good to be true.
And of course, it was. If you saw the story on a news site, you got something that had been more or less re-interpreted to attract page views. This is the kind of story that the media loves to churn out. Boobies ahoy! Never mind giving people an accurate summation of the research.
Here is the real story. Scientists were working with cancer cells in vitro, not with actual living breasts. The cells were grown in a gelatine matrix in flexible silicone compartments which allowed them to provide compression to the individual silicone compartments housing the cell clusters. Receiving that mechanical input on the cells caused the malignant cells to organize themselves and begin to develop normally again. Did you catch that? Because many of the journalists relating the story didn’t. It was the cell clusters that were compressed, not the breasts themselves!
The reason this is so important to scientists is because until now, most research has focused on what sort of biochemical processes affect cancer cells. No one has really looked at the mechanical processes. This opens up new research pathways into understanding cancer. It doesn’t, at present, offer any new therapies for patients. There will be no compression bras for cancer treatment, or therapists offering breast massage. What may eventually develop, however, are treatments that focus on the proteins that hold cells together.
If you are interested in the science, you can read the press release from UC Berkeley. You’ll get a better idea of the story there than reading it on the Daily Mail or Foxnews.
The bottom line is that now scientists know more about how breast cancer develops, which is good. As for those of us at home, the best way to squeeze your breasts for better health is your monthly self-exam.
In the meantime, the only breast squeezing that is likely to help you fight breast cancer is your monthly self-exam – with optional (but fun!) help from a friend!
Originally published on Sexis: “No, You Can’t Treat Breast Cancer by Squeezing Your Breasts“.