Breast cancer is one of the leading causes of death in America today. But there might be something that many women already do that reduces their risk – breastfeeding.

Fox news reports on the new study.

The researchers found that women who breast feed and get cancer are less likely to have the cancer return or to die from it than women who do not breast feed.

Marilyn Kwan, a research scientist at the Kaiser Permanente division of research in Oakland, California, led the study.

She said, “We found in this study of over 1,600 women with breast cancer that those who previously breast-fed had a 30 percent overall decreased risk of their breast cancer recurring. We also found those who previously breast-fed had a 28 percent reduced risk of dying from their breast cancer.”

The study was published this week in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Previous research done on the link between breast-feeding and breast cancer has had the same results. The researchers said that overall the study confirms that breast-feeding is good for the mother as well as the baby.

How does breast-feeding reduce breast cancer risk?

Scientists speculate that breastfeeding helps cause ductal cells to completely mature and thus better resist cancer.

Research scientist Kwan also said,

“If a woman breast-feeds, she reduces her risk of developing breast cancer by about 5 percent to 10 percent, although other factors come into play. We think this is one of the first [studies] to examine the role of breast-feeding and breast cancer outcomes -- prognosis and survival.”

The researchers also found that breast-feeding's protective effect in decreasing the chances of recurrence or death from breast cancer was highest against the most commonly diagnosed types of breast cancer.

CBS news also reported on the study.

The experts looked at two different groups of women, some were diagnosed from 1997 to 2000 and others were diagnosed from 2006 to 2013. The majority of the women were patients at Kaiser Permanente, a large health maintenance organization.

The researcher team found a link between breast-feeding and a more desirable result for breast cancer patients, but the study did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship. The team found the connection to be statistically significant with breast cancers known as luminal A subtypes, including tumors known as estrogen receptor-positive (ER-positive), the most common of all breast cancers. However, the experts did not find the connection to be statistically strong for other forms of breast cancer.

CBS news reports,

“While Kwan found an overall 30 percent reduced risk of breast cancer recurrence among those who breast-fed, when they took the length of breast-feeding into account, any duration decreased risk, but the link was not as strong for those who did so for less than six months.”

What do federal health guidelines recommend?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says women should exclusively breast-feed their babies for around six months. Then this should be followed by continued breast-feeding as foods are introduced, for around a year or more. Breast-feeding aids in protecting babies from diseases such as diabetes, from infection and from becoming too heavy. The AAP also says that mothers who breast-feed have a decreased threat of developing breast and ovarian cancers.


Gerry Oginski
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