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Media Release: Studies Show That Breastfeeding Decreases Risk of Breast Cancer


Schaumburg, IL (October 2005)-Research studies confirm that breastfeeding is one of several controllable factors that reduce the risk of breast cancer. Much of the research shows that the longer a woman breastfeeds the more protected she is against breast cancer. This information takes on special significance during October which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Early detection remains the best tool in the arsenal of breast cancer cure. Women today are also looking for preventive measures. Increasing the duration of breastfeeding an additional six months would prevent an estimated 25,000 breast cancers in Western populations where breast cancer is most prevalent.

In one study, data from 47 epidemiological studies in 30 countries compared over 50,000 women who had breast cancer with a control group of 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, number of births, menopausal status and age when the first child was born. If women in the United States had the same number of births and the same duration 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 70.9 percent of mothers in US hospitals initiated breastfeeding in 2003, only 36.2 percent were still partially breastfeeding at six months of age and only 14.2 percent were exclusively breastfeeding at this age. The American Academy of Pediatrics states that exclusive breastfeeding is the ideal nutrition for the first 6 months and that breastfeeding with the addition of appropriate complementary foods should continue for at least twelve months and thereafter for as long as mutually desired.

It has been demonstrated that peer support is very effective in helping mothers increase the duration of breastfeeding. La Leche League International (LLLI), 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 support groups in over sixty countries and has trained thousands of counselors who help mothers.

LLLI maintains a web site with breastfeeding and research information. The web site features the Center for Breastfeeding Information, one of the largest collections of breastfeeding materials in the world. For more information about the benefits of breastfeeding or help in contacting a local group, visit the LLLI web site at or call 1-847-519-7730 or 1-800-LALECHE.

Lancet 2002; 360:187-95.

See also the LLLI selected bibliography on breast cancer and breastfeeding.

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