Pro-inflammatory cytokines and growth factors in human milk: an exploratory analysis of racial differences to inform breast cancer etiology

Jeanne Murphy, Ruth M. Pfeiffer, Brittny C.Davis Lynn, Ana I. Caballero, Eva P. Browne, Elizabeth C. Punska, Hannah P. Yang, Roni T. Falk, Douglas L. Anderton, Gretchen L. Gierach, Kathleen F. Arcaro, Mark E. Sherman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Background: Analysis of cytokines and growth factors in human milk offers a noninvasive approach for studying the microenvironment of the postpartum breast, which may better reflect tissue levels than testing blood samples. Given that Black women have a higher incidence of early-onset breast cancers than White women, we hypothesized that milk of the former contains higher levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, adipokines, and growth factors. Methods: Participants included 130 Black and 162 White women without a history of a breast biopsy who completed a health assessment questionnaire and donated milk for research. Concentrations of 15 analytes in milk were examined using two multiplex and 4 single-analyte electrochemiluminescent sandwich assays to measure pro-inflammatory cytokines, angiogenesis factors, and adipokines. Mixed-effects ordinal logistic regression was used to identify determinants of analyte levels and to compare results by race, with adjustment for confounders. Factor analysis was used to examine covariation among analytes. Results: Thirteen of 15 analytes were detected in ≥ 25% of the human milk specimens. In multivariable models, elevated BMI was significantly associated with increased concentrations of 5 cytokines: IL-1β, bFGF, FASL, EGF, and leptin (all p-trend < 0.05). Black women had significantly higher levels of leptin and IL-1β, controlling for BMI. Factor analysis of analyte levels identified two factors related to inflammation and growth factor pathways. Conclusion: This exploratory study demonstrated the feasibility of measuring pro-inflammatory cytokines, adipokines, and angiogenesis factors in human milk, and revealed higher levels of some pro-inflammatory factors, as well as increased leptin levels, among Black as compared with White women.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)209-219
Number of pages11
JournalBreast Cancer Research and Treatment
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 1 2018


  • Breast cancer risk
  • Human milk
  • Prevention
  • Race

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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