Breast-feeding may offer broad protection against breast cancer that extends to women who delay having children, according to a study released on Monday.
Previous studies have shown that giving birth before age 25 and having many children protects against certain types of breast cancers, while delayed childbirth is associated with a higher risk of breast cancer.
The most important finding of the new study is that breast-feeding seems to lower the risk of developing breast cancer that comes from having children later in life, said Dr. Giske Ursin, associate professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California medical school and the study’s lead author.
Results of the study were announced at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in Los Angeles.
“As more women may choose to delay pregnancy until after 25, it is important to note that breast-feeding provides protection against both estrogen and progesterone receptor positive and negative tumors,” Ursin said.
Women who develop breast cancer that is hormone receptor negative have a much poorer prognosis than women with other types of breast cancer.
The researchers analyzed data for women aged 55 and older — including 995 invasive breast cancer patients — and found that breast-feeding appears to have a protective effect regardless of when they started giving birth.
This is important since having many children was only protective among women who began having children at an early age, Ursin said.
“Evidence suggests that women who have children after age 25 can reduce their risk of breast cancer by choosing to breastfeed,” Ursin says.
According to U.S. Census data, 25 is the average age that women in the U.S. first give birth.
The study was funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and by the National Cancer Institute.