We have completed maintenance on DiscoverMagazine.com and action may be required on your account. Learn More

Breast-Feeding May Cut Cancer Risk Among High-Risk Women

By Allison Bond
Aug 11, 2009 11:45 PMNov 5, 2019 8:59 PM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

Breast-feeding may significantly cut a woman's risk of breast cancer if she has an immediate relative that has ever had the disease, according to a study published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine. Among women with close family members who have had breast cancer, the risk of developing the disease before menopause sank by 59 percent if she ever breast-fed, according to the research, which used data from more than 60,000 subjects of the Harvard Nurses' Health Study. The risk of breast cancer in women without the disease in the family was unaffected by breast-feeding. The findings suggest that

breast-feeding may prove just as effective a strategy for high-risk women as the use of Tamoxifen, a drug that interferes with estrogen activity and is often used in high-risk women to reduce breast cancer risk [The New York Times].

While the study showed breast-feeding provided a large protective effect, the finding may not be entirely definitive. Oncologist Julia Smith

For women with a high risk of breast cancer, due to factors like a family history of the disease or a genetic predisposition to develop it, the only preventive measures currently used are Tamoxifen and the prophylactic removal of the breasts.

notes that 87 percent of the women in the study breast-fed their infants, a much higher percentage than women in the general population, and that the women who breast-fed tended to be thinner than women who did not. The drop in breast cancer risk may have been due to other lifestyle factors rather than just breast-feeding alone [Health]. For instance, breast-feeding is more common among higher-income, better-educated women, who may engage

in other behaviors that are providing protection against breast cancer. Finally, the fact that breast cancer risk did not appear to be affected by the length of time during which a woman breast-fed raised a red flag among some experts about the conclusions of the research. “I would be cautious in interpreting [these results]... You would expect to see a dose-response relationship with breast-feeding if it is a really causal protective factor”

Related Content: 80beats: A Novel Suggestion for Combating Cancer: Don’t Try to Cure It 80beats: Can Breast Cancer Tumors Vanish Without Treatment? 80beats: Genetic Test Could Predict Breast Cancer Risk for Young Women

[The New York Times],

said epidemiologist Louise Brinton.

Image: flickr / ECohen

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Discover Magazine Logo
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!


Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

To The Magazine

Save up to 40% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2024 Kalmbach Media Co.