Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in the world, and it kills about half a million women per year. We’re all about giving you the tools and info you need to make informed choices for yourself (and your family)–so in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we’re talking about what you can do to reduce your risk.
You may have heard that breastfeeding can reduce your risk of developing breast cancer, but is there any truth to that statement? As it turns out, there’s a growing body of research supporting it. Although it’s not clear exactly why, studies have shown that women who breastfeed tend to develop breast cancer at lower rates. So how does this apply to you–and how can it factor into your decision to breastfeed your child?
Breastfeeding reduces your risk–but it’s not clear how much
A number of large studies have shown a link between breastfeeding and reduced rates of breast cancer, so it’s definitely worth noting. However, the largest benefits were shown in women who breastfeed for 12 months or more, and did so regularly–so if breastfeeding isn’t working for you, you’d have to stick it out for a long time to see the benefits.
A 2017 report from the American Institute for Cancer Research showed that for every 5 months of breastfeeding, women experienced a 2% reduction in their risk of breast cancer. This is pretty exciting info, and it aligns with what other studies have found: the longer, the better. So, if you’re someone who has multiple children and has been able to breastfeed them all for at least 6-12 months, you’re an individual that may experience the most benefits.
But how does it work?
Although it’s unclear exactly why, research is ongoing. One theory is that because breastfeeding can delay the return of menstruation, women experience a reduction in their lifetime exposure to estrogen, a hormone which can promote the growth of cancerous cells. Similarly, since breastfeeding prevents ovulation, it may also reduce your risk of ovarian cancer.
It may also reduce your risk because of changes to your breasts. When you breastfeed, your breasts shed cells–and in the process could be shedding cells with damaged DNA, thus reducing your risk of developing breast cancer later in life.
Breastfeeding is great, but it’s not everything
Yes, breastfeeding may reduce your breast cancer risk–but it’s not the only way. The AICR estimates that a third of breast cancers in the U.S. can be prevented by avoiding alcohol, staying physically active, and maintaining a healthy weight.
These lifestyle factors are so important–think of them as the foundation supporting the house that is your long-term health. An analysis of 35 studies found that highly active women had a 14% lower risk of developing breast cancer as compared to sedentary women. We can’t compare this directly to the protective effect of breastfeeding–that would be like comparing apples to oranges! Both breastfeeding and regular exercise are tools that you have the control to use to manage your disease risk: how you choose to use them is up to you.
At the end of the day, it’s up to you.
Feeding your baby is like all parts of parenting–you have to figure it out as you go along, it’s harder than it looks, and how you decide to do it is a personal choice.
Everyone has their own right answer when it comes to nursing, bottle-feeding, or formula feeding— and there is no one right way to do it. We promise you’ll be able to nourish and bond with your baby regardless of what way you choose to feed.
Remember: we all have different bodies and genetic factors that we can’t change, so let’s educate ourselves on the lifestyle habits and choices that we do have control over. Being aware of your own disease risk profile and how you can reduce it is what’s key, and it allows you to make the best decisions for your own health.
Get more of the latest research and women’s health info you need to know in the Baby2Body App.