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
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.