Breastfeeding -- Protection from Breast Cancer?


It has been thought that breastfeeding protects against breast cancer. Does it? Is that a reason to breastfeed?

To answer these questions, a study was done in South Africa comparing the breastfeeding histories of two groups of women -- 446 women with breast cancer and 1,471 control women who had no history of breast cancer. About 83% of women with breast cancer and 85% of the control women had breastfed.

Both groups of women -- those who breastfed and those who did not - - thus had essentially the same risk of developing breast cancer.

The risk of breast cancer was also found not to be related to the woman's age when she first breastfed, the duration of breastfeeding of the first child, or the number of children whom the woman breastfed.

In sum, lactation appears neutral in regard to a woman's risk of breast cancer. It seems neither to decrease nor increase that risk. The decision whether to breastfeed should therefore be made on other grounds.

Breastfeeding clearly has benefits for the baby. Breast milk is easier to digest and triggers less allergies than infant formula. It contains the mother's antibodies that help protect the baby from a number of common childhood diseases. Breastfeeding may cut the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). An indisputable advantage for breastfeeding is it is free; which is a claim that cannot be made for infant formula.

Source: Coogan PF, Rosenberg L, Shapiro S, and Hoffman M: Lactation and Breast Carcinoma Risk in a South African Population. Cancer 1999;86:982-989.

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