October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Naturally, that brings us to the connection between breastfeeding and breast cancer. There is a long list of reasons why breastfeeding is best for baby. But, the list of reasons why breastfeeding is best for the mother is also long. In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month, let’s look at five facts you probably didn’t know about breastfeeding and breast cancer.
Breastfeeding lowers the risk of breast cancer
Based on a massive report of many studies, the American Institute for Cancer Research named six key factors related to breast cancer risks in 2018. One of the six was that breastfeeding lowers the risk of both pre- and post-menopausal breast cancer.
Breastfeeding for a longer period protects you more against breast cancer
The 2002 report of 47 studies published in the prestigious journal, The Lancet, involved 50,302 women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and 96,973 women who did not have breast cancer. This massive study of studies concluded that women who breastfed for a longer duration had greater protection against developing breast cancer. The relative risk of breast cancer also decreased by 4.3% (95% CI 2·9–5·8; p <0·0001) for every 12 months of breastfeeding in addition to a decrease of 7·0% (5·0–9·0; p <0·0001) for each birth. Notice these amazing p values, which, together with the number of study participants, makes this a very compelling study.
This total of 12 lactating months is cumulative, meaning that it doesn’t need to be a single time frame. While breastfeeding for 12 months or more is optimal for baby, the mother gets the same risk reduction benefit if she breastfeeds two children each for 6 months.
Studies also show that suboptimal breastfeeding affects overall maternal morbidity and health care costs.
Breastfeeding lowers the risk of breast cancer in those with a family history
Women who have an immediate family member with breast cancer have a higher risk factor of developing breast cancer, but those who had breastfed had a lower incidence of cancer than those women who had not, according to an impressive study in JAMA Internal Medicine.
Breastfeeding lowers the incidence of recurring cancer
A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that women who had breastfed had a lower incidence–i.e., 30% lower–of breast cancer recurring. This lower incidence was especially notable in those who breastfed for 6 months or longer. Having breastfed at all also lowered the rate of breast cancer mortality by 28%.
Breastfeeding alters hormone levels
Lactation alters menstrual cycles. Women who exclusively breastfeed may not experience menses for several months. Decreased estrogen exposure may reduce cancer risks.
The takeaway? Be aware, and help others to be aware of what breastfeeding offers to women. Think about how breastfeeding can affect occurrence, recurrence, and mortality as related to breast cancer. So much protection is offered by breastfeeding each child, for as long as possible, optimally for at least 12 months.
Do you know someone who worries about breast cancer? Have you talked to her about the protection that breastfeeding offers?