Science Daily recently published an article during Breast Cancer Awareness Month regarding the association between breastfeeding and a reduced risk of aggressive breast cancer that was sourced by the American Cancer Society. The results indicate that breastfeeding is becoming a scientifically supported way to reduce the risk of breast cancer. Studies have been finding that breastfeeding your child can reduce the risk of breast cancer by up to 20%. That’s a major breakthrough in cancer prevention!
HRN and what it means
Scientists have found that breastfeeding can specifically reduce the development of a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer, hormone-receptor-negative or HRN. This form of breast cancer is very likely to be life-threatening and makes up 20% of all breast cancer diagnoses. There are many factors that contribute to the development of HRN including BRACA1 gene mutation, obesity, and multiple early pregnancies, among others. Unfortunately, it is women with these multiple risk factors that are least likely to breastfeed.
What makes these cancers so dangerous?
HRN breast cancer lacks receptors for estrogen or progesterone, and about 2/3 of those diagnosed also lack receptors for human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2). When the cancer lacks receptors for all three it is considered a Triple Negative (TN). Both HRN and TN are considered deadly for several reasons. These types of breast cancer are more likely to be diagnosed in their later stages, do not respond to as many treatments, and have fewer treatment options to cure them. Because HRN and TN lack several hormone receptors, medications that target these receptors are not effective.
How can breastfeeding help?
Luckily, there is a safe, accessible, and fairly low-cost way to create long-lasting protection against HRN. In the article published on Science Daily, the American Cancer Society says “This work highlights the need for more public health strategies that directly inform women and girls about the maternal (and fetal) benefits of breastfeeding before and during a woman’s child-bearing years. It’s also important for these women to have the message reinforced by their healthcare professionals.”
It’s wonderful to discover that such a beautiful mother-child bond can also help keep mommy healthy and possibly save her life. But what is it about breastfeeding that can help save lives? Breastcancer.org cites several ways that breastfeeding can help. Producing milk 24/7 helps to limit the cells’ ability to “misbehave,” fewer menstrual cycles while mommy is breastfeeding causes lower estrogen levels, and mommies who are breastfeeding tend to eat healthier and live healthier as well. However, Breastcancer.org says something very interesting about the length of time needed to lower the risk of cancer: “Breastfeeding can lower breast cancer risk, especially if a woman breastfeeds for longer than 1 year. There is less benefit for women who breastfeed for less than a year, which is more typical for women living in countries such as the United States.”
Pregnant women and younger mothers are very receptive to making healthy choices for themselves and their babies. If women are encouraged to breastfeed, it might lead to better health for both the baby and mommy. If the stigma of breastfeeding in places such as work or school is also removed, it might make breastfeeding more comfortable for new mothers while out in public.
More research still needs to be conducted, but so far the results have been very encouraging. With such a safe and easy way to reduce the risk of breast cancer, women who are able to breastfeed should try and do so. “All approaches will be necessary in order to protect the most women against the devastation of breast cancer over their lifetimes,” says Farhad Islami, M.D., Ph.D., Director of Interventions, Surveillance and Health Services Research, American Cancer Society.
Featured photo credit: Chris Alban Hansen via flickr.com