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Breastfeeding Reduces Risk Of Breast Cancer

August 11, 2009

Women who have immediate family members with breast cancer are strongly urged to consider breastfeeding their babies, according to a report released today.

Researchers found in a long-term study of more than 60,000 women, that women with a close family history of breast cancer had significantly lower risk of developing breast cancer before menopause if they breastfed their babies, compared to women who did not breastfeed.

“Breastfeeding is good for mothers and for babies,” study chief Dr. Alison M. Stuebe, of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told Reuters Health in an email.

This discovery comes from data on 60,075 nurses who had given birth and participated in the long-running Nurses’ Health Study between 1997 and 2005.

608 women, or roughly 1 percent, developed breast cancer by the end of June 2005, when they were an average of 46 years old.

The findings of Stuebe and her colleagues from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, were reported in the latest issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.

It was also reported that women who had a mother, sister or other close relative with breast cancer had a 59 percent lower risk of developing the disease if they had ever breastfed than if they had never breastfed.

According to the team, the risk reduction “compared favorably” to the results of hormone therapy tamoxifen on women at very high risk for breast cancer.

They found no connection between breastfeeding and breast cancer among women without a family history of the disease.

But Stuebe’s team also observed that women who did not breastfeed but used medication to suppress their milk production had a 42 percent lower risk of developing breast cancer than women who did not breastfeed or use medication to suppress the production of breast milk.

They are exploring the possibility that the association is related to a problem with the process by which breast tissue goes back to its pre-pregnant state. They explain in the report that women who choose not to breastfeed experience abrupt engorgement, and the breast tissue may become inflamed. This inflammation may be the link to breast cancer.

“We hypothesize that both breastfeeding and use of suppressive medications prevent this inflammation,” the authors write.

The current study shows that about 70 percent of women who chose not to breastfeed their babies said they took medication to suppress breast milk production.

The researchers were able to conclude quite definitively that breast feeding poses multiple health benefits for mother and child alike.

“That’s why we need supportive hospital policies, paid maternity leave, and workplace accommodations so that women can meet their breastfeeding goals,” Stuebe said.

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