Breastfeeding Reduces Risk of Breast Cancer

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - October 28, 2008

Washington, DC—As the country recognizes National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, one protective factor often goes unmentioned: the reduction in the risk of breast cancer shown in women who have breastfed their infants. Many Americans hear that breast cancer is the second most frequently diagnosed and second most deadly cancer among women. Similarly, when discussing breast self-exams with their patients, many physicians quote the statistic that one out of every eight women will get breast cancer in her lifetime. Yet many still do not realize that multiple studies have shown that breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast cancer, in addition to lifestyle changes such as exercising, eating a healthy diet, limiting alcohol intake, and avoiding smoking.

USBC Chair Joan Younger Meek, MD, MS, RD, FAAP, FABM, IBCLC, affirms that research has demonstrated that breastfeeding protects mothers from both breast and ovarian cancers, in addition to the more familiar benefits enjoyed by breastfed infants, including protection against illnesses such as ear infections, respiratory infections, and diarrhea, as well as protection against chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and childhood leukemia. Studies also have reported a decreased risk of breast cancer in women with a lifetime breastfeeding duration of more than 12 months.

“Breastfeeding promotion efforts often focus on the benefits to the infant,” says Dr. Meek, “but breastfeeding also provides a host of benefits to mothers. Increased initiation and longer duration of breastfeeding is a major cost-effective primary health prevention strategy to decrease the number of women in the U.S. who will be affected by breast cancer.”

Given all of these benefits, the United States Breastfeeding Committee joins the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Maternal and Child Health Bureau of the Health Resources and Services Administration, and the DHHS Office on Women’s Health in recommending that infants be exclusively breastfed for six months, and continue to breastfeed for the first year of life and as long afterwards as mutually desired by mother and infant. USBC also urges all women to practice the elements of good breast health, including:

  • Obtaining regular mammography screening starting at the age of 40
  • Obtaining annual clinical breast exams
  • Performing monthly breast self-exams
  • Obtaining a risk assessment from a physician

For more information about the benefits of breastfeeding, visit The National Women’s Health Information Center. In addition, USBC has published an issue paper, Benefits of Breastfeeding, available for download on the USBC Web site. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality also has published a comprehensive Evidence Report, Breastfeeding and Maternal and Infant Health Outcomes in Developed Countries.

Physicians and other health care providers can offer assistance and answer questions about breastfeeding, and knowledgeable breastfeeding support personnel can be located through the International Lactation Consultant Association, the USDA Food and Nutrition Service Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Program, and La Leche League International.

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