If your doctor came to you with the news that you are being diagnosed with terminal cancer how far would you go to prolong your life? To some cancer patients this question is being answered by an extremely unconventional option, human breast milk. The patients who participated in trying this treatment may have found that consuming the milk helped push them toward remission, while others had seemed to have improve their quality of life by relieving some of the side effects associated with other treatments such as chemotherapy (Rough 218).
With some patients nearing an end to their life, these cancer patients are willing to try whatever it takes to improve the chances of survival. This form of treatment may be proving to be the next weapon in the fight against cancer. We already know the benefits that babies receive from being breast fed. The overall health of the baby is greatly improved as well as having benefits for the mother.
Prompted by the natural antibodies found in breast milk, student researchers at Lund University in Sweden were conducting research on the effects of breast milk on various viruses’ at this point the students were making progress toward a treatment for the retrovirus (Tichenor). During this research the students by chance tested the human milk on a line of cancer cells, unbelievably the results of this study indicated astonishing results: the human milk was causing apoptosis or cell death to the human lung cancer cell line (Tichenor).
With Dr. Svanborg’s back ground knowledge that break milk already was proven to prevent cancer, the research used this as their starting point for finding the evidence that was needed to prove what they had discovered (Tichenor). The particular property that was responsible for the cell death is officially known as HAMLET (human alpha-lactalbumin made lethal to tumor cells), derived from human breast milk and the acidic environment of an infant’s stomach (Tichenor).
The complex is made of a protein, alpha-lactalbumin and a fatty acid, oleic acid. Combined, these key components proved to cause cell death (Hakansson). The biggest hurdle the researchers at Lund University under the guidance of Dr. Svanborg, was to make sure that she had enough evidence to present these finding to rest of the medical world including the National Cancer Institute and the National Institutes of Health without risking the fragile reputation of the research center being damaged.
A trusted friend of Svanborg’s, by the name of David Solomon who happened to be a researcher at the NCI said to her when she informed him of her findings, “You know that novel ideas in science always challenge the current paradigm, and acceptance is slow. Your work will not be taken seriously by the scientific community initially. And you are not at a stage in your career to take that kind of a risk. ” (Tichenor).
Next would be trying to get the attention of the pharmaceutical community; the problem with drug companies is that don’t take serious natural drug treatments or they feel that such treatments are not worth their time and money. “Orphan drugs” as they are referred to, sometimes never make it to the general population as an option for treatment and Dr. Svanborg did not want her finding to be discounted as such. Once the researchers at Lund University were able to mass produce HAMLET the small center began testing the complex in order to gather enough evidence to support their claim (Tichenor).
While this discovery had only been proven to be effective in vitro, and with the results in vivo still being tested more thoroughly as an effective treatment or a cure for cancer, many patient’s are being encouraged to begin consuming human milk as part their unconventional treatment plan (Doyle). Shortly after Lund University’s findings were publicized, many cancer patients began seeking out human milk for treatment on their own, getting it from milk banks, or friends or family members.
With no formal trials conducted regarding the use of human milk for treatment, the Journal of Human Lactation conducted its own analysis testing the use of using human breast milk as a treatment for cancer. The experiment was to document the outcome of consuming human milk and what effect the milk would have on the patient’s cancer, and/or the patient’s well being while using the milk in addition to the patient’s current treatment plan or as treatment on its own (212).
To conduct the study, the researchers wanted to use cancer patients whom they knew had contacted San Jose Mother’s Milk Bank to obtain human milk and were currently using human milk treatment either in addition or as a replacement to conventional treatment. Out of the thirty nine contacted by mail to participate, only eleven responded and were available and willing to give consent to take part in this study; unfortunately, one became too ill to participate leaving only ten patients to base the study on. The sample of patients selected each had different types of cancer, and at varying stages of the disease.
The researchers interviewed the patients or proxies for the patients extensively as an opportunity to acquire the patient’s history, and to see how the milk was affecting their well being, and also to see if the milk was a good fit as treatment for the patient (Rough). The participants of the study were asked to add the human milk to whatever current forms of treatment that they were already receiving including chemotherapy, radiation, Vitamin C, as well as various herbs such as milk thistle and wheatgrass as prescribed by the patient’s doctors, specialist’s or recommended by friends or spiritual advisors.
The human milk therapy was determined not to have an adverse effect since it was completely natural, when combined with the other treatments. The patients who were allergic to cow’s milk discovered that they did not have an allergy to the human milk and were able to tolerate the milk quite well. Many of the patients reported feeling stronger and more energized, and also improved spirits. Upon consuming the human milk, the patients indicated that they had improved digestive symptoms such as less nausea and diarrhea.
Some patient’s appetites had begun to improve, and their weight began to stabilize. The patient’s immune system seemed to improve as well. The patients had less colds, fevers and respiratory illnesses (Rough 214). (See Table 1) The patients reported having their physicians willing to cooperate with the use of human milk therapy, they felt that it would be safe and it could not hurt to try, although some physicians did have some opposing opinions since no solid evidence was reported on whether it was effective in treating cancer.
Dosing was determined by the individual’s physician, and the recommended amount was mainly experimental; however, the patients were given specific prescriptions on the amount to be consumed each day. A prescription was required in order to receive the human milk from the milk banks. Some of the patients chose to do their own research on the use of the milk. The patients consumed between two to twelve ounces per day, some even consuming up to sixteen ounces in one day. Some of the patients had received pasteurized human milk, while others would receive unpasteurized milk.
The milk purchased from SJMMB was priced at $3. 00 plus shipping, therefore making this a very expensive treatment option. Some patients found that they needed to decrease the amount that was ingested per day due to the expensive cost of the milk. Surprisingly, one of the patients was able to bill their insurance for the cost of the milk, while others chose to have friends or family members give them milk directly. When the milk was given as a gift it added a sentimental value to the treatment, this very important offering seemed to have increased the patient’s moral (Rough).
It took some coaxing for the patients to begin consuming the milk, but after a short while they realized that the milk was actually making them feel better, so then treatment was administered much more easily. Some of the patients would mix the milk with chocolate to mask the taste, or mix it in with ice cream. The patients reported that the pasteurized milk did not taste as well as good milk. Although some of the patients preferred the raw milk flavor, the doctors advised against using it in the unpasteurized form for safety reasons.
With a cure for cancer far off into the future studies of this nature may bring hope. Work is being done currently with the use of human milk, mainly the use of HAMLET to find how effective the protein complex is in treating cancer such as brain cancer and skin cancer. One study suggested evidence that when given the HAMLET for the treatment of bladder cancer it was discovered that the cancer cells were excreted in their urine while leaving behind the healthy cells in the bladder (Mossberg). With this evidence, researchers are working on finding more uses for HAMLET to be used as a cure for other types of cancer.
For many terminally ill cancer patients who felt the inevitable was already upon them, the use of human breast milk as a part of their complementary and alternative medicine (known as CAM) was more about improving their quality of life rather than finding a cure for the cancer; however, when the patient feels better physically, emotionally and spiritually, the patient tends to show signs of improvement. With human breast milk, patients are given the strength as well as the will to live in order to continue to fight the cancer and not give up (Rough 211).
And now with the hope of another treatment option such as HAMLET the hope for a cure could be closer than we ever would have thought possible, thanks to the countless hours and hard work of a small research team at Lund University in Sweden, and the curiosity of a student nonetheless… Table 2. Perceived Cancer Symptoms Before and After Initiating Human Milk Therapy. (Rough214) Patient| Symptoms Before HMT| Symptoms After HMT| Aa| Patient had chemotherapy symptoms: tiredness, nausea, diarrhea. Patient was allergic to cow’s milk. | Patient had no nausea, diarrhea, or tiredness and was not allergic to human milk.
| Bb| Patient had difficulty swallowing and eating because of size of tumor. | Patient had no difficulty swallowing human milk. Human milk was easier to digest, improved her QOL, and offered more nutrients. She tolerated liquids better than regular food. | Ca| Patient had elevated PSA levels. | PSA levels dropped 1 month after initiating human milk therapy. No other supplements had changed during this time. | Da| Patient had trouble swallowing, was very sick and unable to work, and had no appetite. | Patient felt stronger and stayed in remission; cough decreased and respiratory function improved.
Patient was able to exercise more to offset fatigue, had increased appetite, and gained weight. Milk donated by family and friends gave patient positive feeling. | Eb| Patient was not a (cow) milk drinker. | Patient was energized by human milk. His energy was not depleted by cancer, and his spirits improved. | F| Patient practiced watchful waiting. | Patient continued watchful waiting. | Gb| Data were unavailable. | Data were unavailable. | Hb| Patient had no appetite, couldn’t tolerate food, and was losing weight. | Patient requested and drank milk without coaxing after a couple days. Patient’s stomach felt better; kept milk down.
Patient didn’t push milk away like other food. | Ib| Patient had weight loss and diarrhea. | Patient had fewer colds and fever and less “gray” appearance. Weight was maintained. | J| Chemotherapy made patient feel miserable: nauseous, weak, wheezy. | Patient felt stronger and found it easier to get through chemotherapy. She had fewer colds. She feels well and cancer is gone. |
- Doyle, Megan. “Use of Human Milk as Cancer Therapy. ” Suite 101. N. p. April 27, 2009. Web. 04 Nov 2010.
- Hakansson, A. et al. “Apoptosis Induced by a Human Milk Protein. ” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 92. 17 (1995). The Cat. Web. 21 Oct 2010 Mossberg, A-K, et al. “HAMLET Interacts with Lipid Membranes and Perturbs Their Structure and Integrity. ”
- PloS One. 5. 2 (2010). The Public Library of Science. Web. 06 Nov 2010 Rough, Susanne M. et al. “Qualitative Analysis of Cancer Patients’ Experiences Using Donated Human Milk. ” Journal of Human Lactation 25. 2 (2009): 211-219.
- Sage Publications. Web. 21 Oct 2010. Tichenor, Linda. “Mother’s Milk Cures Cancer? Researchers Deliberate Over Whether to Publish. ” National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science. University of Buffalo. January 18, 2002. Web. 30 Nov 2010.