Breastfeeding Gives Women Diagnosed with Breast Cancer A Reduced Risk of Dying

Breastfeeding reduces the chances of death of those women who develop breast cancer
According to statistics from, approximately 1 in 8 U.S. women (or about 12 percent) will develop invasive breast cancer in the course of her lifetime. And despite the decreasing incidence rates (which have been falling since 2000), 232,670 new cases were expected to be diagnosed in 2014, while 40,000 women were expected to die. Additionally, of the women who do die from breast cancer, an increasing proportion of these women have been younger than 50 years old. Thus, if there are means to decrease the chances of developing breast cancer, many women will jump at such an opportunity. For example, famed actress Angelina Jolie decided to have a double mastectomy after she learned she carried the BRCA1 mutant gene that increases the likelihood that an individual develops cancer.

Now, there might be a less invasive (though possibly not as robust) way to decrease one’s risk of developing breast cancer. According to research published Tuesday in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, women who breastfeed their babies and are later diagnosed with breast cancer “are less likely to have the cancer return or to die from it than women who do not breastfeed” given that, if they do develop cancer, are more likely to be diagnosed with the luminal A subtype which “are less likely to metastasize, are treatable with hormonal therapy…and generally have better outcomes.” (Breastfeeding can also save money.)

Lead researcher Marilyn Kwan continued in the statement, “We found in this study of over 1,600 women with breast cancer that those who previously breastfed had a 30 percent overall decreased risk of their breast cancer recurring….We also found those who had previously breastfed had a 28 percent reduced risk of dying from their breast cancer.”

This research is in accordance with previous studies that have also found a link between the risk of developing breast cancer and breastfeeding. Still, this research is among the first to establish a relationship between breastfeeding and breast cancer outcomes, adding more credence to claims that breastfeeding is beneficial to both mothers and their infant children.

The molecular and physiological mechanism by which this effect occurs, however, is still unknown. According to a co-author of the study, Bette Caan, “Breastfeeding may increase the maturation of ductal cells in the breast, making them less susceptible to carcinogens or facilitate the excretion of carcinogens, and lead to slower growing tumors” or the Luminol-A, less aggressive breast cancer subtype. One should note, however, that there are a variety of breast cancer “types,” caused by a range of genetic and environmental factors. As described in a statement about their research, the authors say, “breastfeeding offered extra protection from breast cancer tumors of specific genetic subtypes;” however, it remains to be seen if similar “interventions” can be found to protect individuals from more virulent subtypes.

(Photo courtesy of Aurimas Mikalauskas)

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3 Responses to Breastfeeding Gives Women Diagnosed with Breast Cancer A Reduced Risk of Dying

  1. Mary says:

    I wish I could have breastfed. I read about more and more benefits to the mother and the baby, but I couldn’t. I also think people need to understand better than some women can’t breastfeed instead of trying to shame them when they can’t.

  2. Thirsty says:

    I hereby offer to feed from the breasts of any attractive woman desiring a little cancer protection.

  3. Martin says:

    I just came for the photo.

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