There’s a good chance you’ve already heard that October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month, and if you haven’t, now you know. :) Some blogs have chosen to “Go Pink” for the month to help raise money and awareness. While I’m too timid to mess with my newly designed blog and risk breaking it, I have put an icon in my left sidebar to the Breast Cancer Site where you can click daily to help fund mammograms. Feel free to go here to add one to your site as well.
Since I am currently breastfeeding, I feel like I’m pretty darn familiar with my breasts, and I tend to neglect doing self breast exams, even though I know I should be doing them. So I’m using this post as a reminder to me and to all of us women to take the time each month to do an exam. There. I just did mine. Your turn. Go ahead. I’ll wait. :)
Also, if you missed my post back in July about fellow blogger WhyMommy and her battle with inflammatory breast cancer (a type of breast cancer with NO lumps), please take a minute to read it. It’s very important information for all women to be armed with.
Now that we’ve got those things out of the way, I also want to take this opportunity to share some information about how breastfeeding can help lower your risk of getting breast cancer, and lower your baby girl’s risk as well.
Pregnancy and Breastfeeding Lower Estrogen Exposure
You can lower your risk of developing breast cancer by breastfeeding your baby. And if your baby is a girl, her risk can also be reduced.
Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
Pregnancy before age 30 and breastfeeding reduce a woman’s total number of lifetime menstrual cycles, which is thought to be the reason they help lower your risk. The hormone estrogen fuels 80% of all breast cancers. Since pregnancy and lactation reduce your estrogen levels, your risk is decreased each time you are pregnant and while you are nursing your baby.
How Long Should I Breastfeed?
While this is a very personal decision, studies show that breastfeeding for one and a half to two years over one’s lifetime will reduce your risk of breast cancer slightly.
A study of Chinese women found that their breast cancer incidence dropped by 63% when they breastfed for six years.
Though that tends to be longer than most choose to do so, your reduced risk can be determined by the cumulative amount of time you’ve spent breastfeeding over the course of your life. For example, if you had three babies and nursed each for six months, your cumulative breastfeeding time of one and a half years would serve to reduce your risk of developing breast cancer.
How Does Breastfeeding Help Prevent Breast Cancer?
There are several theories about how breastfeeding protects you from developing breast cancer:
- Your lifetime exposure to estrogen is reduced, which decreases the possibility of developing estrogen-fueled breast cancer.
- Your hormone balances are different during lactation, resulting in fewer menstrual cycles and less estrogen exposure.
- Environmental carcinogens that are stored in fat, which makes up a great part of the breast, cannot be efficiently stored in lactating breasts.
- Breastfeeding may cause changes to breast cells that make them more resistant to cancer-related mutations.
Not a Gold-Plated Guarantee of Protection
Even if you have several pregnancies and breastfeed each baby, you may still develop breast cancer. Having breast tissue alone puts you at risk of breast disease. Keep doing your monthly breast self exam to check for changes in your breasts. Be aware of benign lumps that can occur, such as a plugged milk duct, cyst, abscess, or fibroadenoma.
American Cancer Society. Overview: Breast Cancer – What Causes Breast Cancer? Last Updated: 09/26/2006. Breast Cancer Risk and Lifestyles
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Breast-Feeding Best Bet for Babies
Breakthrough Breast Cancer.org. About Breast Cancer – Prevention and Early Detection – Breastfeeding. Breastfeeding for at least one year during your life may modestly reduce your risk of breast cancer.