Breastfeeding Lowers Your Breast Cancer Risk
Recent research shows that breastfeeding can minimize the risk of premenopausal and postmenopausal breast cancers in women.
In India, Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in women, accounting between 25% and 45% of female cancers.
According to a study conducted by the Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer, breastfeeding for one or more years reduces a woman's risk of developing breast cancer by nearly 5%. So if you're wondering how breastfeeding can reduce the threat of breast cancer, then this blog post is for you. Let's start with understanding what exactly breast cancer is.
In This Article:
What Is Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer is one of the most common causes of cancer deaths in women. It is a disease that develops when abnormal cells in the breast begin to multiply and form a tumor. The form of the tumor can either be benign or malignant.
Where benign tumors (not dangerous to health) grow slowly and do not spread to other parts of the body, on the contrary, malignant tumors are innately dangerous as they quickly spread beyond the original tumor to distant areas of the body.
The term “Breast Cancer” refers to a malignant tumor that is cancerous and develops from the uncontrolled growth of breast cells.
There are mainly two types of breast cancer:
Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC): The most common type of breast cancer, accounting for over 80% of all breast cancer diagnoses. This cancer begins growing in the duct and spreads to the surrounding breast tissues in a very short span of time.
- Invasive Lobular Carcinoma (ILC): Another type of breast cancer that develops from lobules (milk glands) and spreads to the breast tissues, which are close by. It accounts for approximately 10-15% of all invasive breast cancers.
Apart from these two types of breast cancers, there are several other subtypes of breast cancer, such as Tubular Carcinoma, Ductal Carcinoma In Situ, and Inflammatory Breast Cancer. These cancers either incorporate characteristics of the abovementioned cancers or have unknown origins.
What Are The Symptoms And Signs of Breast Cancer?
The most common symptoms and signs of breast cancer include:
- A change in the size or shape of the breast
- A lump, swelling or thickening in the breast area, with or without pain
- An inverted nipple
- Dimpling or puckering of breast skin
- Itching, scaly soreness or rashes on the nipple
- Red, scaly, darkened or swollen breast skin
- Dimpled or pitted breast skin that looks like an orange peel
- Nipple discharge other than breast milk, specifically bloody discharge
- Swollen or enlarged lymph glands (nodes) near the breast area, including around the collarbone or under the arm
However, keep in mind that these symptoms don't necessarily mean you've got Breast Cancer. If you ever experience any of these signs or symptoms that are persistent, consult your doctor immediately.
How Does Breastfeeding Lower the Risk of Breast Cancer?
Now, let's come to the main point – how can breastfeeding help a woman keep breast cancer out of her future? Well, according to researchers, there are several prevalent theories about how breastfeeding helps prevent pre- and postmenopausal breast cancer:
- Breastfeeding limits your lifetime exposure to hormones like estrogen and progesterone, which are well-known to trigger breast cancer. When you’re breastfeeding, you have fewer menstrual cycles because of various hormonal changes. This leads to less hormone exposure over time and thereby prevents cancer cell growth.
- Breastfeeding sheds your breast tissues, helping you get rid of any cells with potential DNA damage in your breasts. In order to produce breast milk, breastfeeding causes your cells to change or differentiate, which makes them more resistant to cancer-causing mutations. Consequently, neither breast cells are able to act abnormally, nor are there chances of developing breast cancer.
- According to lactation experts, women who nurse their babies live a healthier lifestyle than those who don’t. They take better care of their health by making healthier lifestyle choices, like eating nutritious foods, avoiding alcohol and smoking, exercising, etc. All these lifestyle factors play a vital role in reducing the risk of breast cancer.
- Additionally, women who breastfeed do not ovulate so often, which leads to lowering the risk of both ovarian cancer and breast cancer. That's because the less you ovulate, the less exposure you have to estrogen and mutated cells – the primary cause of cancer in women. It's also worth mentioning here that breastfeeding not only strengthens your child’s immune system but also provides him protection against different types of cancer, including breast, kidney, pancreatic, endometrial, rectal, and esophageal cancers.
What Are Some of The Benefits of Breastfeeding For Infants And Mothers?
Breast milk is a perfect natural food for an infant. It is the ideal combination of immunity-boosting antibodies and healthy natural digestive enzymes that even scientists couldn't replicate yet. The benefits of breastfeeding not only to infants’ health but also to mothers:
|Benefits for Baby||Benefits for Mother|
|Reduces the risk of otitis media (ear infection)||Minimizes the risk of high blood pressure|
|Reduces obesity risk by up to 25%||Reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes by almost one half|
|Reduces the risk of respiratory tract infections||Slashes the risk of breast cancer.|
|Lessens the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)||Lowers the risk of ovarian cancer.|
|Decreases severity and incidence of diarrhea||Helps you lose weight gained during pregnancy|
|Increases mother-baby bonding through skin-to-skin contact||Protects against postpartum depression|
|Boosts infant's intelligence||Lower the chances of developing hypertension|
|Protects from dental caries and malocclusion||Help shrink the uterus back to pre-pregnancy size.|
|Protects against skin allergies and eczema||Lowers the risk of heart diseases|
How Long Should You Breastfeed to Reduce Risk?
Now that you’ve understood how breastfeeding helps prevent breast cancer, the next question that might come to your mind is, “Does it really matter how long I breastfeed to reduce my risk of breast cancer?” Of course, it matters!
While this is a personal choice, studies show that if a woman breastfeeds for longer than one year in her lifetime, she becomes less susceptible to breast cancer. In other words, the longer you breastfeed, the less likely you're to develop breast cancer in your lifetime.
However, how much your risk of breast cancer will drop totally depends on the cumulative amount of time you’ve spent breastfeeding throughout your lifetime. For instance, if you had two babies and nursed each for one year, then your cumulative breastfeeding time of two years would serve to cut your risk of developing breast cancer.
As a general rule, we recommend you breastfeed for at least one year so that both you and your little one could reap the health perks of breastfeeding to the fullest.
WHO and UNICEF recommends
- Initiating breastfeeding in the first hour of life
- Breastfeeding to be done exclusively for the first six months
- Continuing to breastfeed for up to 2 years and beyond, with solid foods after the baby is about 6 months of age
What If You Can't Breastfeed?
“It isn’t always possible for moms to breastfeed but for those who can, know that breastfeeding can offer cancer protection for both the mother and the child,” said AICR’s Director of Nutrition Programs Alice Bender, MS, RDN.”
While breastfeeding lowers the risk of breast cancer to a large extent, it is not a gold-plated guarantee of protection. In other words, even if you have breastfed enough, you may still develop breast cancer.
According to lactation experts, whether or not you breastfeed, your risk of developing breast cancer depends mostly on your healthy lifestyle habits - which are in your full control. So if you’re not breastfeeding for any reason, here are a few lifestyle choices that you can make to prevent breast cancer from entering your life:
- Exercise regularly
- Eat nutritious food
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Sleep well - at least 8 hours a day
- Limiting alcohol consumption
- Quit smoking if you do
- Avoid exposure to radiation and environmental pollution
- Limit time spent sitting
The decision to breastfeed or not is a personal one and largely depends on a woman's individual circumstances. However, given the benefits of breastfeeding to both mother and child, it is highly recommended you breastfeed your little one as long as possible.
Hopefully you'll find this article interesting and helpful. Make your breastfeeding easier and more comfortable with our fantastic collection of nursing wear, ranging from nursing covers to nursing bras..