link between hair and breast cancer disproved
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Link between hair and breast cancer disproved

The purported promising link between incidence of breast cancer and certain properties in human hair, reported previously in the journal Nature is “dubious” according to research published today in the Institute of Physics journal Physics in Medicine and Biology.

Small angle x-ray scattering gives information on the microscopic structure of materials on the nanometer (a millionth of a millimeter) to the micrometer (a thousandth of a millimeter) scale. Work published in 1999 reported the possibility of using small angle x-ray scattering from hair to detect breast cancer.

Human hair comes in different colors and textures and has a complicated structure made up of many parts, a structure which can differ from one individual to another. Though much is already known about these differences, the structure of hair is neither completely measured nor completely understood.

“The idea that there could be a correlation between breast cancer and the structure of hair did seem surprising, but such a link could have been very important,” said Dr. Mark Sutton of McGill University in Canada.

In the original research, the presence or absence of a particular peak in the scattering was said to show that the patient either had breast cancer or was susceptible to it. Such a link could have led to a relatively simple test for breast cancer as well as unique insight into the mechanisms of cancer.

Sutton and his team looked to confirm the previous research findings by measuring small angle x-ray scattering patterns on 56 patients who were known either to have breast cancer or not. This ‘fully-blinded’ test looked for a particular peak in the scattering and measured its intensity.

Their results, however, showed no clear association between peaks in small angle x-ray scattering and the risk of breast cancer.

“Looking at the original results, we thought that their link between hair structure and breast cancer might be some kind of genetic factor, as there are numerous genetic causes of abnormal hair structure. Instead, it looks as though no correlation exists at all, which is disappointing,” said Sutton.

The measurements for this study were performed at the Advanced Proton Source in Argonne, Illinois, with an IDEA grant from the Canadian Breast Cancer Research Institute.

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