Apr 20, 2018 | Updated: 09:54 AM EDT

Breastfeeding Reduces the Risk of Breast Cancer

May 01, 2015 11:27 PM EDT

Breastfeeding has long been recommended by many of the leading medical authorities, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.  The decision to breastfeed is a personal one and is likely to draw strong opinions from both friends and family.  However, evidence showing breastfeeding is healthy for both mother and baby continues to grow.

In a new survey, researchers found that women with breast cancer who breastfed their babies are significantly less at risk of the disease recurring.

For the study, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, researchers analyzed the data of 1,636 women with breast cancer who completed a questionnaire about breastfeeding.

Researchers found that breastfeeding a strong protective effect, especially in relation to particular types of tumors including the most common hormone sensitive strain.  The protection was strongest in women who had a history of breastfeeding for six months or longer.

Lead researcher Marilyn Kwan, from US health care provider Kaiser Permanente, said, "This is the first study we're aware of that examined the role of breastfeeding history in cancer recurrence, and by tumor subtype. Women who breastfeed are more likely to get the Luminal A subtype of breast cancer, which is less aggressive, and breastfeeding may set up a molecular environment that makes the tumor more responsive to anti-estrogen therapy."

"Breastfeeding may increase the maturation of ductal cells in the breast, making them less susceptible to carcinogens or facilitate the excretion of carcinogens, and lead to slower growing tumors." said Co-author Bette Caan.

These tumors are less likely to spread to other parts of the body and are often treatable with drugs such as tamoxifen and aromatase inhibitors. 

Overall, a history of breastfeeding reduced the chance of the cancer recurring by 30 percent, and the risk of dying dropped by 28 percent.  The reduction of cancer risk was proportional to the cumulative lifetime duration of breastfeeding.  The more months or years a mother breastfeeds, the lower her risk for cancer.

Breast milk provides ideal nutrition for infants with a perfect mix of vitamins, minerals, protein and fat that a baby needs to grow.  In addition, breast milk contains antibodies that help babies fight off viruses and other illnesses in the early stages of life.  Now, it seems, breast feeding can help the mothers as well helping mothers burn more calories and lowering the risk of osteoporosis, ovarian cancer and even breast cancer as well.

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