The benefits of breastfeeding for babies have long been discussed, but new research has revealed that women who breastfeed their babies for the recommended six months may lower their own risk of developing endometrial cancer by up to 11 percent.
The study, which was lead by QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Brisbane, Australia, analysed data from 17 previous studies, found that mums who had breastfed their children were 11% less likely than those mothers who didn’t breastfeed to be diagnosed with endometrial cancer.
And while breastfeeding for longer seemed to lower the endometrial cancer risk even further, researchers found there was little extra benefit of nursing babies for longer than nine months.
The study, published in Obstetrics and Gynecology, is the largest and most comprehensive to be conducted into the link between breastfeeding and uterine or endometrial cancer.
The research team examined data from more than 26,000 women with at least one child, including nearly 9000 women with uterine cancer. The researchers also looked at how long the women had breastfed each child.
“We found that the longer women breastfed each child, the more their risk of uterine cancer reduced, up until about nine months when the reduction in risk plateaued,” lead author Susan Jordan said.
“When women breastfed for between three and six months, their risk dropped by about seven per cent per child compared to women with children who didn’t breastfeed. And when women breastfed for between six and nine months, their risk dropped by 11 per cent for each child they nursed,” Dr Jordan continued.
“In other words, a woman who breastfed two children for nine months had around a 22 per cent lower risk of uterine cancer than a woman who had never breastfed her children.”
Womb cancer (also known as uterine cancer or endometrial cancer) is actually the fourth most common cancer in women and the biggest of all the gynaecological cancers. But it’s also the easiest to cure.
Previous studies have identified a link between breastfeeding and decreased risk of break cancer. However, past studies into the relationship between breastfeeding and uterine cancer had conflicting and inconclusive findings.
“On the basis of this study, we can now confirm that there is a link between breastfeeding and decreased risk of uterine cancer,” said Dr Jordan.
“We can’t say that this is definitely a causal relationship. However, it is plausible that breastfeeding could directly reduce the risk by suppressing ovulation and reducing oestrogen levels, and in turn reducing cell division in the lining of the uterus.”
Researchers felt it was important to raise the point that breastfeeding won’t guarantee that a woman won’t develop cancer of the uterus, and that conversely, choosing not to breastfeed doesn’t mean a woman will get uterine cancer.
“However, this study strongly suggests that breastfeeding reduces a woman’s risk,” she said.
The news comes as it was revealed last month that experts are now testing whether a compound found in mother’s breast milk could help treat cancer.
The accidental discovery of the effects of a compound found in breast milk, and nicknamed Hamlet, could mean a more effective and targeted way to kill cancerous tumour cells.
Researchers from the University of Lunt in Sweden revealed some positive results from studying the effects Hamlet has on bladder cancer patients.
Scientists believe that a reaction takes place with breast milk when it hits the gut. It produces a protein called alpha-lactalbumin, which targets cancer cells.
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