What I Learnt – “Breast Cancer – the Biology Behind the Silent Killer” by Hayley Frend

I often attend talks or shows featuring pieces of science outside my specialist area of quantum physics, as there’s so much interesting science out there. In what I hope will be a regular feature called “What I Learnt”, I’ll highlight a few key facts that I found particularly interesting during the talk. The first talk to be covered is one by Hayley Frend, who I’ve done a few outreach things with, including Sci Cam. She talked about the biology behind breast cancer and her research into it.

  • Breast cancers have been separated into eight different subtypes so far, and it seems reasonable to expect that these will be split even more as our understanding of breast cancer increases.
  • Part of the problem with treating breast cancer comes from the fact that these different cancers behave differently.
  • Although pregnancy overall decreases the chance of getting breast cancer, it actually increases the chance of getting it just after pregnancy, due to the stem cells multiplying so much.
  • It is just about possible to grow a mammary gland in a dish, although you need to have a collagen scaffold and fat cells there to support it. Even then, it will look a bit weird.
  • After puberty has hit, the network of milk ducts leading to the nipple resembles a bunch of grapes with no grapes as the alveoli (milk-producing sacs) only grow during pregnancy – imagine the stem of the bunch of grapes as leading to the nipple, and the part where grapes should go as where the alveoli will go during puberty.

Thanks to Hayley for that talk, and Cafe Scientifique for hosting it!

You can follow Hayley on Twitter and find more information on the Cambridge branch of Cafe Scientifique here.

For more on research into cancer, I recommend the Cancer Research UK blog.

All of the “What I Learnt” posts are based on my recollection of talks I’ve seen, and so may occasionally contain inaccuracies, although I strive to avoid them. If you see any problems, please comment below and I’ll fix it.

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