Some studies have shown that Survey: Many Women Unaware of Potential Benefit of Breast Feeding on Breast Cancer Risk (dateline June 29, 2008) | Breast Health News | Imaginis - The Women's Health & Wellness Resource Network

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Survey: Many Women Unaware of Potential Benefit of Breast Feeding on Breast Cancer Risk (dateline June 29, 2008)

Some studies have shown that breast feeding may help prevent breast cancer; however many women are unaware of this potential benefit according to the results of a recent survey. The World Cancer Fund has called for more education on the benefits of breast feeding after a survey showed three quarters of women in Britain are unaware that breastfeeding may help prevent cancer. Researchers have found several benefits to breastfeeding including weight loss and bone health. While more research is needed to definitively determine whether breast feeding prevents breast cancer, the World Cancer Fund is concerned that many women are unaware of this potential significant benefit.

"It is a real concern that so many women are unaware of a simple way they could help protect themselves," said Lucie Galice, General Manager of the World Cancer Fund.

In a survey conducted on behalf of the World Cancer Fund, 25% of women were aware that breast feeding may decrease breast cancer risk. Breast feeding has also been found to decrease a child's risk of becoming overweight or obese; however, only one third of women surveyed were aware of this benefit. The World Cancer Fund is calling for increased awareness of the potential benefits of breast feeding.

Some experts believe that breast feeding may lead to a decreased risk of breast cancer because breast feeding may suppress the hormone estrogen, which is needed to fuel many types of breast cancer. Some small studies have shown that women who breast feed exclusively for the first six months reduce their risk of breast cancer. For example, a study of over 800 women in China found that breast-feeding for two years may reduce a woman's risk of developing breast cancer by as much as 50% compared to women who breast-feed for less than six months.

The American Academy of Pediatricians and the National Association of Pediatric Nurses Associates and Practitioners recommend breast-feeding as much as possible during the baby's first year. Breast milk is extremely nutritious and contains carbohydrates, proteins, and fats essential for a baby's health. Breast milk also contains antibodies that help prevent infections and allergies. Breast-feeding has also been shown to be associated with a number of benefits to children, including a reduction of infant ear infections, allergies, diarrhea, bacterial meningitis, and other serious illnesses.

While some studies have linked breast feeding to decreased breast cancer risk, many experts believe that further research is needed to understand if and how breast-feeding lowers this cancer risk. It is also important to note that there are many risk factors for breast cancer, including advancing age, family history, age of first menstruation, etc. are uncontrollable.

Breast-feeding is a personal decision a mother needs to make carefully, taking full into account the benefits and burdens it will bring to both her and her baby. The American Academy of Pediatrics and other organizations actively promote the benefits of breast-feeding. If a mother does decide to breast-feed her children, she should understand that breast-feeding is a major responsibility that requires her to maintain excellent nutrition and health. Most physicians agree that caffeine intake should be kept to a minimum during breast-feeding and that alcohol should not be consumed during this time.

To help detect breast cancer at early stages, when the chances for successful treatment and survival are the greatest, women should follow these guidelines set by the American Cancer Society:

  • All women between 20 and 39 years of age should practice monthly breast self-exams and have a physician performed clinical breast exam at least every three years.
  • All women 40 years of age and older should have annual screening mammograms, practice monthly breast self-exams, and have yearly clinical breast exams. The clinical breast exam should be conducted close to and preferably before the scheduled mammogram.
  • Women with a family history of breast cancer or those who test positive for the BRCA1 (breast cancer gene 1) or BRCA2 (breast cancer gene 2) mutations may want to talk to their physicians about beginning annual screening mammograms earlier than age 40, as early as age 25 in some cases.

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