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The Breastfeeding and Breast Cancer Connection

Black moms who don’t breastfeed at higher risk of an aggressive breast cancer

Black mothers who don’t breastfeed may be at increased risk for an aggressive type of breast cancer, suggests a new study.

Researchers from Boston University’s Slone Epidemiology Center analyzed data from nearly 3,700 black breast cancer patients and found about one-third of them had estrogen receptor-negative breast cancer—a deadlier tumor subtype more common in black women.

Women with children were more likely to develop these particular tumors compared to those who never had children, according to lead researcher Julie Palmer, a professor of epidemiology. Whether or not a mother breastfed seemed to influence her risk for the tumor.

In the study, women who had four or more children but had never breastfed were 68 percent more likely to develop an estrogen receptor-negative breast cancer than women who had only one child but did breastfeed.

“Breast cancer mortality is disproportionately high in African-American women of all ages, in part due to the higher incidence of estrogen receptor-negative breast cancer, with fewer targets for treatment,” Palmer said in a news release.

The findings, published last month in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, pointed out an association between a lack of breastfeeding and raised cancer risk; it didn’t prove cause.

Earlier research has found the overall risk of breast cancer may be higher during the first five to 10 years after a woman gives birth, with risk dropping after that time. This study suggests the risk for estrogen receptor-negative breast cancer may remain elevated.

Breastfeeding’s benefits for baby have been well established, and more American women are providing their children with breast milk. The results of this research show the practice could be lifesaving for moms, too. “[It may be a] factor that could prevent some cases of this breast cancer subtype,” Palmer said, “and reduce the number of African-American women dying from this disease.”


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