After examining hundreds of Northern California women, a new Kaiser Permanente study found out that breastfeeding is not only healthy for babies but seems to also be good for mothers diagnosed with breast cancer later in life.
A thorough analysis of the medical records of more than 1,500 women who had breast cancer showed that those who breastfed at some point had 30 percent lower chances of experiencing cancer recurrence after effectively treating it. At the same time, they definitely seemed to experience less aggressive tumor types than the women who did not breastfed.
Lead author of the study, Marilyn Kwan, an esteemed research scientist from the Kaiser’s Division of Research in Oakland, said the premise was finding what the prognosis would be for women who breastfed early on and then developed breast cancer.
Researchers reached the conclusion that, no matter how long the women continued breastfeeding, they had a better chance of seeing improved breast-cancer outcomes. However, those who sustained the practice for 6 months or more had even better results in the nine-year follow-up period, which came to an end last year.
Breastfeeding for at least six months meant a 37 percent lower risk of developing breast-cancer again after effective treatment. The study also found that death-rate among women who breastfed was reduced with 28 percent than in the case of those who never did. The percentage reached 39 percent in the research group of women who breastfed six months or longer.
The paper was issued in in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, following previous proof that breastfeeding seems to act as protection against developing breast cancer.
Scientists aren’t really clear on why this happens, but medical experts agree that breastfeeding holds back the return of the mother’s period, which is linked, in turn, to a significantly reduced risk. At the same time, the baby-bonding practice also helps complete the development of the ductal cells, which have a protective effect on the breast.
Not just a baby-mother bonding experience
In the paper, Kwan explained how the delaying of a woman’s menstrual cycle means the levels of estrogen are significantly lower than those of a woman with regular period, which in turn promotes breast-cancer cell growth.
A lot of scientists have hypothesized that while breastfeeding helps in the maturing of your ductal cells, that in turn makes your breasts develop more resistance to carcinogens.
Kwan’s study is a pioneer in the studying of the potential effect of breastfeeding in the recurrence of breast cancer and survival after developing various subtypes of this cancer. Most of the women participating in the study received a breast cancer diagnose related to one of two hormones: progesterone, estrogen, or both.
About 80 percent of all women who receive a breast cancer diagnose are in the luminal A category, which has proved to be easier to treat than other types due to the minimum aggression of the tumors and the effectiveness of hormonal therapy and other treatments.
Breastfeeding did not seem to have such a significant influence on other types of breast cancers. But even when it had a positive impact on the risk of recurrence, there is still some risk, proved by the fact that many women who have indeed breastfed their babies were still diagnosed with breast cancer later on.
What’s encouraging, though, is the fact that a lot of health experts and lactation specialists who have already read the study said they will use the study results to instill desire for breastfeeding in new mothers.
Breastfeeding on the rise
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows that approximately 77 percent of new U.S. mothers breastfeed. During the 1970s, this practice had taken a hard hit among U.S. mothers, but since then, a generally positive increase could be observed.
According to the CDC’s most recent report from 2014, California state wins with highest breastfeeding rates – almost 93 percent of mothers practice it. The percentage for moms who breastfeed more than 6 months is also high, reaching 63 percent.
More and more campaigns around the nation promote the value that breastfeeding has to babies. Kwan’s study not only supports that, but also brings a new value for the mom, as well, as Dr. Susan Kutner said, breast surgeon at Kaiser’s San Jose hospital and board member of Kaiser’s Northern California’s Breast Care Task Force. She did not participate directly in the study.
More breastfeeding advocacy groups, such as the California Breastfeeding Coalition, an educational nonprofit organization, are encouraged by the study’s results. While there is still a lot scientists don’t understand, this study made biological sense – when breast cells fulfill their function completely, it means we’re winning at life.
According to Maggie Kler, a certified lactation educator at Healthy Horizons Peninsula Breastfeeding Center in Burlingame, this study comes as confirmation to the work they do at the center. They were aware of the benefits breastfeeding has for the mom, but not to this extent and not on recurrence rates down the road.
Image Source: Lennon Center
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