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Start breastfeeding to reduce breast cancer risk

Nov 04, 2015

Breast cancer accounts for 25%-32% of all cancer in females and largely affects women below fifty years of age, writes Dr Victoria Kumar.

Dr Victoria Kumar

New Delhi: Human Milk has endless benefits. For instance, it lowers the rate of childhood obesity, decreased incidence of asthma and also boosts the brain development of a child, when exclusively breastfed in the first six months.

A breast-fed child is fourteen times less likely to die as opposed to non-breastfed child. The colostrum of a nursing mother enhances the immunity of a child while the milk itself contains nutrient values that prove to be disease resistant. Therefore, mother’s milk is the absolute protective layer of love bestowed by a mother to her baby for life.

However, nowadays, a shift is being observed where mothers are lesser involved in breastfeeding their babies due to difficulty in balancing motherhood and professionalism. Skipping this lactation phase seems problematic, as not breastfeeding after giving birth puts women at a higher risk of breast cancer, diabetes and many other serious health conditions.

In the recent past, scientists have been able to discover a direct relationship between breastfeeding and breast cancer. Breastfeeding is not only beneficial for the child but also the mother as it greatly reduces the risk of developing ovarian cancer and a type of breast cancer, especially among young women, which has poor prognosis.

In the opinion of a study carried out at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, breastfeeding has been found to minimize the danger of estrogen receptor-negative and progesterone receptor-negative breast cancer.

In India, breast cancer rates have relatively been lower in the past but with the changing scenario there has been a sudden rise in the breast cancer graph amongst females. Owing to lifestyle, late motherhood trends and succumbing to social and professional stress women generally tend to avoid breastfeeding, making them vulnerable to breast cancer.

Breast cancer accounts for 25%-32% of all cancer in females and largely affects women below fifty years of age, that is, 48% of women between ages 20 to 50 years. It is shown that 89 out of 100 females are likely to survive for at least 5 years in the West. This cannot be said for India. There is a dire need to spread awareness about the importance of breastfeeding and hold campaigns for the same so that the message reaches out to larger masses.

Researchers are still yet to figure out the extensive reasons for this direct relationship between breastfeeding and breast cancer, it is suggested that the high hormone levels required for lactation appeared to affect cell growth so as to protect the breast against changes that would otherwise make the breasts vulnerable to breast cancer.

Breastfeeding is the fourth trimester of pregnancy and just as soon as breastfeeding comes to a halt, the body gets rid of damaged cells that are potentially cancerous. In addition, the fact that women cease to ovulate during the time of producing milk also contributes in protection against the possibility of breast or ovarian cancer.

According to cancer statistics study conducted by World Cancer Research Fund, women who breastfeed for at least a year, not necessarily at a stretch, are five percent less likely to develop breast cancer. The longer a women breast feeds, lower are the chances of her being a victim to cancer and circulatory diseases.

A recent study by AIIMS (All India Institute of Medical Sciences) and Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has unveiled that urban working women yield to higher abortions, late reproduction, and shorter periods of breastfeeding and larger consumption of oral contraceptive pills and thus have higher vulnerability to breast and ovarian cancer. This risk among urban Indian women with a history of using contraceptive pills is increased by a shocking figure of 9.5 times higher.

Also, to be noted that women who are treated of breast cancer and are fertile can plan of pregnancy again. Studies have revealed that hormones produced during pregnancy and breastfeeding do not initiate or revive breast cancer. Neither will the milk carry any cancer cells.

Dr Victoria Kumar is an Education Manager on Breastfeeding, Medela India.

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