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Recent data has shown an inverse relationship between cancer and breast-feeding.
In addition to aiding in postpartum weight loss, breast-feeding offers other health benefits for mothers, according to recent data published inCancer Epidemiologyshowing an inverse relationship between cancer and breast-feeding.
Globally, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women. Research indicates that women who breast-feed are less likely to get breast cancer, and possibly, ovarian and endometrial cancers. The European Code against Cancer recommends breast-feeding, noting that it can reduce the mother’s cancer risk. Research by the international Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer shows that breast-feeding carries a 4.3% risk reduction for every 12 months of cumulative breast-feeding (in addition to an estimated 7.0% reduction in risk for each birth). In addition, a study by the Continuous Update Project of the World Cancer Research Fund showed a decreased breast cancer risk of 2% for an increase of 5 months of total breast-feeding.
Research seems to suggest that exclusive breast-feeding, defined as the baby receiving only breast milk for a period of time, lowers the incidence of ovarian and endometrial cancers as well, although more research is needed to make a definitive statement on the matter.
Possible causes of reduction in cancer rates due to breast-feeding are postponement of the menstrual cycle, reduction of estrogen level in the breasts, and full differentiation of breast tissue, which makes it less susceptible to hormonal changes that can increase the chances for mutation. The exfoliation of breast tissue that breast-feeding causes can also decrease cancer risk by removing damaged DNA.
It is recommended to breast-feed babies the as long as possible. Exclusive breastfeeding may have benefits in preventing ovarian and endometrial cancers, in addition to breast cancer. This, along with known metabolic benefits and bonding time between mother and baby, presents a strong case in favor of breast-feeding infants.