Breastfeeding Reduces Aggressive Cancer Risk
For years, statistical evidence has suggested that breastfeeding may be linked to a reduced risk of developing certain types of breast cancer. Now new research has shown that African-American women, who are at increased risk for two forms of especially aggressive breast cancer, can indeed reduce their risk of these diseases by breastfeeding.
Death from breast cancer strikes African-American women disproportionately, compared with white women and other ethnicities. Often, it’s due to the development of so-called estrogen receptor-negative breast cancer. These forms of aggressive breast cancer are negative for estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors, and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2).
One form, known as triple-negative, is especially hard to treat, because tumors do not respond to treatments targeted at receptors. Among women with the BRCA1 mutation who develop breast cancer, 75% will get the triple-negative form.
Women who have given birth, but who have not breastfed, are at increased risk for estrogen receptor-negative breast cancer. An African-American woman who has given birth to four children, but has never breastfed, for example, experiences a 68% increase in the risk of developing receptor-negative breast cancer, compared to a woman who has borne one child, which was breastfed.
Researchers concluded that women who give birth, but do not breastfeed their infants, are at increased risk for this type of especially aggressive cancer of the breast. Breastfeeding is a modifiable factor, said Prof. Julie Palmer from Boston University's Slone Epidemiology Center. African-American women could decrease their risk of being diagnosed with this deadly disease by breastfeeding their infants. Given that breastfeeding is also inarguably best for the infant, it’s a potential win-win.
Parity, Lactation, and Breast Cancer Subtypes in African American Women: Results from the AMBER Consortium, Julie R. Palmer, et al., Journal of the National Cancer Institute, doi: 10.1093/jnci/dju237, published August 2014.