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Media Release: Study Shows that Increasing Duration of Breastfeeding Decreases Risk of Breast Cancer

Schaumburg, IL (October 2002)-A July study appearing in the prestigious medical journal Lancet found that the longer a woman breastfeeds the more protected she is against breast cancer. The study, which has obvious implications for encouraging the choice of long-term breastfeeding, takes on special significance during October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

While early detection remains the best tool in the arsenal of breast cancer cure, increasing the duration of breastfeeding of each child for only six months could prevent an estimated 25,000 cases of breast cancer each year. In addition, if each child were breastfed for an additional twelve months, approximately 50,000 cases could be prevented annually in Western populations where breast cancer is most prevalent.

The reanalysis of data from 47 epidemiological studies in 30 countries compared over 50,000 women who had breast cancer with a control of 96,000 women who did not have the disease. The case for longer duration of breastfeeding as one protective effect against breast cancer was independent of age, country, ethnic origin, the number of births, menopausal status and the age of the mother when the first child was born. If women retained the same number of births and same amount of breastfeeding that was prevalent in developing countries until recent times, it is estimated that the incidence of breast cancer by age 70 would be approximately half of what it is today. Two-thirds of this reduction in breast cancer would be due to increased duration of breastfeeding alone.

While 68 percent of mothers in US hospitals initiate breastfeeding, only 31 percent are still breastfeeding at six months of age. This is despite the American Academy of Pediatrics statement that exclusive breastfeeding is the ideal nutrition for the first six months and breastfeeding with the addition of appropriate complementary foods should continue for at least twelve months and thereafter for as long as is mutually desired.

It has been demonstrated that peer support is very effective in helping mothers to increase the duration of breastfeeding. La Leche League International, the world's foremost authority on breastfeeding, was founded in 1956 as the first organization encouraging and educating mothers about breastfeeding with mother-to-mother support. Today this nonprofit organization offers groups in over sixty countries, has trained thousands of counselors who help mothers in under-served communities, and maintains a website that features breastfeeding information and an on-line directory for the Center for Breastfeeding Information, the largest collection of breastfeeding research in the world. For more information about the benefits of breastfeeding or help in contacting a local La Leche League group visit our website at or call 1-847-519-7730.

Contact: Kim Cavaliero (847) 519-7730, ext. 233, Mary Lofton, ext. 271, or Mary Hurt, ext. 286

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