September is Childhood Cancer and Ovarian Cancer awareness month. Cancer is the leading cause of death among U.S. children between infancy and 15 years of age. Leukemia, a cancer of blood cells, accounts for about 30% of all childhood cancers; making it the most common of childhood cancers. Researchers are not sure how breastfeeding might protect children from leukemia, but said that breast-milk may influence the development of the infant's immune system.
Research has shown that breast-fed babies have more natural-killer cells, a type of immune cell that targets and destroys cancer cells, than children fed with formula. Studies also found that babies breast-fed for at least six months appear to have a 19% lower risk of childhood leukemia compared to children who were never breast-fed or were breast-fed for fewer months.
Similar to childhood cancer, ovarian cancer risk is 24% lower in women who have ever breastfeed, versus those who have never done so; risk decreases further with longer breastfeeding duration. In the U.S, ovarian cancer is only the 9th most prevalent cancer in women, but the 5th leading cause of cancer death for women. Part of the reason the cancer is so deadly is that spotting the cancer is quite rare. Unfortunately, only 20% of ovarian tumors are caught early.
However, it is believed that breastfeeding helps prevent ovarian cancer because it can delay ovulation. Researchers believe that the more ovulation occurs, the greater the risk of cell mutation which can trigger the disease. At Curtin University in Australia, a study found that women who breastfed for more than 13 months, were 63% less likely to develop an ovarian tumor than women who breastfeed for less than 7 months. They also found that mothers who breastfeed three children and who breastfeed over 31 months were up to 91% less likely to suffer from ovarian cancer than women who breastfeed for under 10 months.
The old adage: "An ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure," was never more relevant than with breastfeeding and fighting cancer. Let's decrease the risk of these killers by protecting, promoting and supporting breastfeeding.