Breast-feeding reduces incidence of cancer: study

Staff Reporter

Risk reduced by 5 per cent for every year of breast-feeding

50 per cent of cases in India are seen in women below 50 years Increased risk among women who have fewer number of kids

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: A case-control study for assessing the risk factors for breast cancer, conducted among 3,800 women in Thiruvananthapuram and Chennai, has reported that breast-feeding for a longer duration can significantly bring down the risk of breast cancer in pre-menopausal women.

The study found that the risk of breast cancer is reduced by almost 50 per cent in women who have breast fed their children for a total of five years or more during their lifetime, when compared to women who have breast-fed for only a year in their lifetime.

The multi-institutional study, sponsored by the International Association for Research on Cancer, France, was conducted during 2002-05 and is the largest breast cancer study to be conducted in the country. The Thiruvananthapuram leg of the study was conducted by the Regional Cancer Centre where 1,200 women with breast cancer and an equal number of women without the disease (control group) were studied.

The findings of the study assume much significance as the annual risk of women developing breast cancer especially urban women has been showing a consistent upward pattern in the State since 1991. The annual risk of breast cancer in urban areas is 30 per lakh of the population while in rural areas it is 20 per lakh of the population. The incidence rate for the State is on par with the all-India rate.

Almost 50 per cent of the breast cancer cases here are seen in women below 50 years while in the West, almost 75 per cent of breast cancers have been reported in women in the post-menopausal period. The outcome of treatment has also been very poor for young women who develop breast cancer.

"More than the incidence rate, we should be worried about the fact that younger women are developing breast cancer. About 20 per cent of the cases are found in urban women under 35 years of age, indicating that consumption of fatty food and sedentary lifestyles pose a definite risk. Urban women are also forced to cut short the duration of breast feeding as they have to get back to work," said B. Rajan, Director of RCC.

Breast cancer is often provoked by the increased duration of exposure to the female hormone, oestrogen. Hence, women who attained puberty at an early age, those who have lesser number of children and women who attained menopause at a later age than usual have been found to be at an increased risk of developing breast cancer.

."Children should be encouraged to have regular physical activity which can delay the onset of puberty," Dr. Rajan said.

The present study showed that the risk of developing breast cancer reduced by five per cent for every year of breast-feeding. As breast-feeding is one of the few known risk factors that can be modified, encouraging women to prolong the duration of breast-feeding could help bring down the burden of breast cancer.

The study suggests that changes that have occurred in the pattern and duration of breast-feeding might have contributed to the increased incidence of breast cancer among urban Indian women.

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