Does Breastfeeding Prevent Breast Cancer?

You can reduce your risk of developing breast cancer by breastfeeding. Keeping active and consuming less alcohol are two other measures you can take to reduce your risk.

The most frequent malignancy among women is breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, 1 in 8 women, or roughly 13% of them, will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lifetime.


There are certain things you can do to lower your risk, even though there is no guaranteed strategy to avoid breast cancer. Did you know, for instance, that breastfeeding can lower your risk of developing breast cancer?

Only 38.5% of the women surveyed in a 2020 survey research in the United States were aware that breastfeeding lowers the risk of breast cancer.


Continue reading to find out more about how breastfeeding reduces your chance of breast cancer, additional breast cancer prevention measures, and more.


How does breastfeeding lower your risk of breast cancer?

In terms of breast cancer, breastfeeding is a preventative measure. Why this is the case is not quite obvious. But a few of the following elements are probably at play here as well:

  • Breastfeeding encourages alterations in breast cells that may lower the risk of breast cancer developing.
  • You may have a delay in the onset of your period as a result of the hormonal changes that take place during nursing, which lowers the amount of estrogen you are exposed to. Risk of breast cancer increases with prolonged estrogen exposure.
  • A balanced diet, abstinence from alcohol, and quitting smoking are all healthier lifestyle choices that are more likely to be made by breastfeeding mothers.

Let’s now examine the conclusions drawn from some of the research on breastfeeding and the risk of breast cancer.


Research into breastfeeding and breast cancer risk

An earlier study from 2002 that used data from 47 trials in 30 countries discovered that breastfeeding reduced breast cancer risk by 4.3% for every year.


Regardless of region, age, ethnicity, or individual characteristics like the number of births or menopausal status, the size of this reduction was not significantly influenced by any of these variables.

People who have a high risk of developing breast cancer, such as those with specific genetic abnormalities, benefit from breastfeeding as well. Another older study from 2012 discovered that women with mutations in the BRCA1 gene who breastfed for at least a year had a 32% lower risk.

It seems that breastfeeding may also lower the risk of several forms of breast cancer. Studies from 2015 and 2019 and others have revealed that breastfeeding guards against hormone receptor-negative breast tumors, which often have worse prognoses.


What are the other benefits of breastfeeding?

The decision of whether or not to breastfeed is very personal. However, if you’re able to breastfeed, it’s worth considering. In addition to reducing your risk of breast cancer, it also has several other benefits as well.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), breastfeeding benefits you by reducing your risk of:

  • high blood pressure
  • type 2 diabetes
  • ovarian cancer

In addition to providing your baby with nutrition, breastfeeding can benefit your baby by reducing their risk of:

  • respiratory, ear, and gastrointestinal infections
  • type 1 diabetes
  • obesity
  • asthma
  • sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
  • necrotizing enterocolitis, a serious intestinal condition that can affect preterm babies

What other things can you do to lower your risk of breast cancer?

If at all feasible, try to breastfeed your kids, but there are other things you can do to help reduce your risk of breast cancer.


Stay physically active

Your chance of developing breast cancer and several other malignancies can be lowered with regular exercise. Additionally, it’s crucial for your general wellbeing.

According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, adults should engage in 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity activity, 75 to 150 minutes of strenuous exercise, or a combination of the two.


Manage your weight, if necessary

Multiple malignancies, including breast cancer, have been associated to an increase in body weight. As a result, if you are overweight or obese, consult a doctor about healthy weight-management strategies.


Reduce alcohol consumption

Alcohol can have a number of detrimental consequences on your health, including an increased risk of breast cancer when consumed excessively. Consider lowering your alcohol intake or quitting altogether to lower your risk.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend one drink or fewer for women and two drinks or less for men per day if you do decide to drink. Remember that the definition of a drink varies depending on the type of alcohol.


Talk with a doctor

Speak to your doctor if breast cancer runs in your family. They might advise genetic testing to determine whether you have any gene alterations that might considerably increase your risk. If so, you may want to look into further preventive measures like medication or surgery.

You run a higher chance of developing breast cancer if you use certain hormone-based drugs, such as oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy. If you take these drugs, discuss the benefits and drawbacks with your doctor. Find out if there are any better options.


What are the primary causes and risk factors for breast cancer?

Breast cancer develops when cells there start to multiply and expand out of control, sometimes spreading to other body parts. It occurs because your DNA contains altered genes that have an impact on how your cells divide and expand.

Some of these genetic alterations are brought on by chance mistakes that occurs as your cells divide. Others might be inherited from your parents or passed down to you. Genetic alterations can also be facilitated by particular environmental and lifestyle factors.


Known risk factors for breast cancer

Things that increase your risk of developing a condition like cancer are called risk factors. The known risk factors for breast cancer include:

  • being an older age
  • having a personal or family history of breast cancer
  • inheriting certain genetic changes, such as those in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes
  • having dense breasts
  • having certain benign breast conditions like:
  • having certain other health conditions, such as obesity or type 2 diabetes
  • starting your menstrual period at an earlier age
  • experiencing menopause at an older age
  • not having children or having your first child at a later age
  • not breastfeeding
  • using certain hormone medications, such as oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy
  • receiving radiation therapy to your chest
  • being a taller height
  • consuming alcohol
  • having low levels of physical activity


How often should you receive screening for breast cancer?

Breast cancer screening can go a long way in detecting breast cancer in its early stages. When it’s found early, the outlook for people with breast cancer is better.

The test that’s typically used for breast cancer screening is called a mammogram. In some scenarios, breast MRI or breast ultrasound may also be used as a part of screening.

The American Cancer Society recommends the following for women at an average risk of breast cancer:

  • Age 40 to 44: Consider having a screening mammogram every year.
  • Age 45 to 54: Receive a screening mammogram each year.
  • Age 55 and older: Consider having a screening mammogram every other year or continue to have them yearly.

Those at a high risk of breast cancer are recommended to begin screening with a breast MRI and a mammogram starting at age 30. This includes:

  • people with a strong family history of breast cancer
  • individuals with known genetic changes that increase breast cancer risk
  • those who’ve received radiation therapy to their chest

Screening recommendations can vary between organizations

Screening recommendations can vary according to the organization issuing them. For example, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force have slightly different recommendations.

As such, it’s always a good rule of thumb to have an open conversation with a doctor about your individual breast cancer risk. They can help recommend screening times and methods that are right for you.


Frequently asked questions about breastfeeding and breast cancer

How long do you need to breastfeed in order to get the most benefits?

Generally speaking, people who breastfeed for longer than a year receive the most benefits. However, it’s still possible to get some benefits if you breastfeed for less than a year.

Can you still get breast cancer if you breastfeed? How common is it?

Yes. However, it’s uncommon during your childbearing years. The American Cancer Society

 notes that breast cancers in women under age 40 are estimated to make up only 4% of new invasive breast cancer diagnoses in 2022.

Getting breast cancer while breastfeeding is also rare. According to 2012 research.It’s estimated that only 3% of women develop breast cancer while breastfeeding.

Does having children decrease your risk of breast cancer (even if you don’t breastfeed them)?

Yes, the risk of breast cancer tends to decrease with the number of births. However, some research indicates that this effect varies between different types of breast cancer.

Can breastfeeding lower the risk of ovarian cancer?

Yes. Some research has found that breastfeeding for over 12 months can reduce the risk of ovarian cancer by 37%.

How many women breastfeed?

According to the CDC, 83.2% of babies born in 2019 were breastfed. This number dropped to 55.8% and 35.9% at 6 months and a year, respectively.


Final Thoughts

You are more likely to avoid getting breast cancer if you breastfeed. When you breastfeed for more than a year, it usually offers the greatest benefits.

There are additional methods for lowering your risk of breast cancer. These include behaviors like regularly exercising, drinking in moderation or not at all, and, if necessary, controlling your weight.

In order to find and treat breast cancer early, screening is crucial. Early detection of breast cancer improves prognosis. Make careful to discuss the timing of your breast cancer screening with a doctor.

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