Breast Feeding reduces Cancer Risk in Mom

Dr. Weeks’ Comment: Another great reason to not give your infant synthetic formula.


Docs Fail to Tell New Moms Breastfeeding Can Reduce Cancer Risk

Fran Lowry

November 07, 2018

Few women report being told by their obstetrician that prolonged breastfeeding, from 6 to 12 months, can reduce their risk of getting breast cancer, according to a study published online October 25 in Breastfeeding Medicine.

“The protective effects of breastfeeding against developing breast cancer are well known, but despite this, less than 20% of the women in our survey reported that they actually received this information from their healthcare provider. This needs to change,” the study’s senior author, Bhuvaneswari Ramaswamy, MD, from the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, Columbus, told Medscape Medical News.

This information, although important for all women, is especially so for African American women, who, when diagnosed with breast cancer, have a 30% to 40% greater chance of dying from the disease than white women.

“One of my research interests is cancer disparities, and many population and epidemiological studies show that African American women have a higher risk of developing more aggressive triple-negative breast cancers,” Ramaswamy commented. “Yet, they have higher parity and a lower prevalence of breastfeeding.

“Newer data show that breastfeeding appears to lower the risk of developing triple-negative breast cancer, and if we are looking at cancer disparities, this might be one of the things that explain why African American women have higher mortality from breast cancer,” Ramaswamy said.

“We also know that women native to Africa have higher rates of breastfeeding and lower rates of breast cancer,” she added.

Survey of New Mothers

Ramaswamy surveyed new mothers to find out how many had been informed that prolonged breastfeeding was beneficial to their health after her own informal poll of her friends and colleagues revealed that none had received such information from their healthcare providers.

“Not one time did any of my healthcare providers tell me that breastfeeding is important for my own health. Everybody knows it is good for the baby, but nobody said breastfeeding for 6 months or 12 months can reduce the risk of breast cancer. Then I talked to all my friends and colleagues and asked them how many were actually told that, and literally none of them had been,” Ramaswamy said.

Her team surveyed 724 women aged 18 to 50 who had had at least one live birth. Participants were recruited through primary care practices and a national clinical research registry.

Although most of the women (92%; n = 667) had chosen to breastfeed, only 56% (n = 407) reported that they were aware of the link between prolonged breastfeeding and breast cancer risk reduction before they made the decision to do so, and a little more than a third of these women (36.4%) said this knowledge affected their decision to breastfeed.

Of the 39 women who did not breastfeed, 23 (59.0%) reported that awareness of such a risk reduction would have influenced their decision to breastfeed.

However, only 120 of the 724 respondents (16.6%) indicated that they had received this information from healthcare providers.

Women who had received this knowledge breastfed longer than those without this knowledge (13.2 months vs 9.3 months; < .001).

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