- Breastfeeding has been associated with a lower risk for breast cancer in some research.
- But a recent survey found that few mothers who knew about this link were told about it by their doctors.
- Among the small number of mothers who did not breastfeed, most said if they’d known about the link, it would have influenced their decision.
- But it’s important to remembder that the biggest breast cancer risk factors – being a woman and getting older – can’t be controlled.
Breastfeeding provides a wealth of benefits for babies. Breast milk has the right composition of nutrients to support a baby’s growth and contains antibodies that protect them from some infections and health problems. It also benefits mothers: For example, some evidence shows that it’s associated with a lower risk of breast cancer.
But a recent study found that not all women are informed about this link by their doctors, Tech Times reported.
The study, published in October in the journal Breastfeeding Medicine, was conducted at Ohio State University’s Comprehensive Cancer Center. The researchers surveyed a group of 724 women aged 18 to 50 who had at least one live birth.
In total, 92% of the women said they breastfed, and 56% said they were aware of the link between breastfeeding and reduced breast cancer risk. Of the ones who knew about that link, a just over a third said it influenced their decision to breastfeed.
Researchers also found only 16% of the women were told about the link by a medical professional. That figure is “concerning” to the study’s lead author Dr. Bhuvana Ramaswamy, according to an Ohio State University statement about the research.
“We have a duty as a medical community to ensure our patients have reliable knowledge,” Ramaswamy said in the statement. “When it comes from a professional, medical information is much more likely to affect people’s choices.”
The study also suggested that just knowing about the association between nursing and reduced breast cancer risk could factor into a mother’s choice of whether or not to breastfeed – though this conclusion is limited by a very small sample size. Of the 39 women in the sample who didn’t breastfeed, 23 (or 59%) said that knowing about the link would have influenced their decision.
The biggest breast cancer risk factors are the ones you can’t change
There are some breast cancer risk factors that women can control. Avoiding alcohol, maintaining a healthy weight, and being active can all lower breast cancer risk, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).
The ACS website also notes that breastfeeding “may slightly lower breast cancer risk,” particularly if a mother continues it for 1½ to 2 years.
Research has shown that a woman’s risk for getting breast cancer is related to her exposure to the hormones made by her ovaries, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) – and both being pregnant and breastfeeding reduce a woman’s total number of menstrual cycles, which reduces her exposure to those hormones.
Some researchers have also hypothesized that changes to breast cells during pregnancy and breastfeeding pregnancy could make them more “resistant” to becoming cancer cells, the NCI website adds.
But it’s important to place factors like breastfeeding in a larger context. Having a breast cancer risk factor doesn’t mean you’re doomed to the disease, and, on the flip side, avoiding them doesn’t mean you’ll be immune to breast cancer, either.
“Some patients think, ‘I breastfed my children so I can’t get breast cancer;’ ‘It’s not in my family so I’m not at risk;’ ‘I eat healthy and don’t drink and don’t smoke so I’m not at risk,'” breast surgeon Dr. Deanna Attai previously told INSIDER. “But all women are at risk.”
In the US, Attai added, the biggest risk factors for the disease are being a woman and getting older – neither of which can be controlled.
- Read more:
- Breastfeeding rooms are now required in all major US airports, thanks to a new law
- Breastfeeding is better for babies’ weight than pumped breast milk, according to a new study
- A woman paused during a 106-mile ultra-marathon to breastfeed her 3-month-old son
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