This hypothesis proposes that carcinogens in the breast are generated by the action of superoxide free radicals released when acinal gland distension, under the influence of unopposed prolactin, causes microvessel ischaemia. Inadequate nipple care in the at-risk years leads to ductal obstruction preventing the elimination of carcinogens from the breast. The regular production of oxytocin (OT) from nipple stimulation would cause contraction of the myoepithelial cells, relieving acinal gland distension and aiding the active elimination of carcinogenic fluid from the breast.
Mechanical breast pump stimulation causes an increase in plasma OT levels in the luteal but not in the follicular phase of the menstrual cycle. OT production upon nipple stimulation in the luteal phase of premenopausal, non-lactating women may be protective against the high rates of mitotic breast cell division noted at this time via the potential to block the effect of oestrogen.
The epidemiology of breast cancer suggests that lengthy lactation time is beneficial. Sexual activity in nulliparous women also protects and OT levels have been shown to rise with orgasm in women and in men. OT systems in the brain are intricately linked to oestrogen and progesterone levels, and it is possible that these hormones may modify the OT secretory response both centrally and through an effect on the sensitivity of the breast.
OT production with nipple care and in sex and lactation, and the reduction in cycling ovarian hormones that occurs with pregnancy, may all be important preventative factors in the development of breast cancer both pre- and post-menopausally.
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Murrell, T.G.C. The potential for oxytocin (OT) to prevent breast cancer: a hypothesis. Breast Cancer Res Tr 35, 225–229 (1995). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00668213
- ductal obstruction
- functional breast behaviour
- microvessel ischemia