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Breast Cancer: Could Breastfeeding Reduce The Risk?

First Posted: Oct 29, 2015 11:25 PM EDT

Breastfeeding may help reduce a woman's risk of developing breast cancer, according to a recent study.

More specifically, the risk for developing an aggressive form of breast cancer known as hormone-receptor negative, was reduced by up to 20 percent in women who breastfed.

"Further evidence to support the long-term protection of breastfeeding against the most aggressive subtypes of breast cancer is very encouraging and actionable," Marisa Weiss, president and founder of Breastcancer.org, and director of breast health outreach at Lankenau Medical Center, said in a news release. "Breastfeeding is a relatively accessible, low-cost, short-term strategy that yields long-lasting natural protection."

Hormone-receptor-negative (HRN) breast cancers are more likely to be aggressive and even life-threatening when compared to other types. While the subtype is more commonly diagnosed in women under 50, those with the BRCA1 gene mutation, African American or Saharan African women are more likely to be diagnosed with the health issue. In fact, this subtype represents about 20 percent of all breast cancers in the United States, alone.

This type of breast cancer is also referred to as the most deadly because it tends to be diagnosed in later stages when treatment might not be as successful.

Other factors that may put women at a higher risk of developing HRN breast cancer include obesity and multiple early pregnancies. Many with these added risk factors are less likely to breastfeed, as well.

Researchers believe that eliminating barriers regarding breastfeeding that exist in the home, workplace and the community in general could help to reinforce the maternal and fetal benefits of breastfeeding.

"All approaches will be necessary in order to protect the most women against the devastation of breast cancer over their lifetimes," said Farhad Islami, director of interventions, Surveillance and Health Services Research at American Cancer Society.

"Pregnant women and young mothers are highly receptive and motivated to make healthy choices. We need to encourage women who are able to breastfeed to do so for their breast health, in addition to the health of their children," Paolo Boffetta, associate director for population sciences at the Tisch Cancer Instituteat the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, added.

Next, researchers hope to determine the impact of breastfeeding duration on other breast cancer subtypes. 

The study results are published in the journal Annals of Oncology

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