Breastfeeding Protects Against Endometrial Cancer

New Research on the Benefits of Breastfeeding

Some very welcome research has recently been published in Obstetrics & Gynecology indicating that breastfeeding for at least the recommended six months may reduce a woman’s risk of developing endometrial cancer later in life.

 

Breastfeeding mAy prevent uterine cancer

By analyzing data from prior studies, researchers determined that women who had breastfed their infants were 11 percent less likely to be diagnosed with endometrial cancer than women who had given birth but didn’t breastfeed.

Women who were able to breastfeed for 6-9 months saw the lowest endometrial cancer risk. Breastfeeding for longer periods of time beyond 9 months did not provide extra benefit.

How Breastfeeding helps

Researchers believe the cancer risk-lowering benefits of breastfeeding occur because endometrial cancer can be stimulated by estrogen, which is suppressed during breastfeeding.

The World Health Organization recommends that women breastfeed for the first six months of their child’s life and if possible, to continue the practice through their child’s introduction to solid foods. While breastfeeding is associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer, this new research offers evidence of another health benefit for women who breastfeed for six months or longer.

About the Study

The data that was reviewed in this recent study included information about approximately 26,000 women who had given birth, their breastfeeding habits, and the total length of time breastfeeding occurred. The research pool also included 9,000 women who developed endometrial cancer later in life. After accounting for other factors associated with endometrial cancer risk, including age, body mass index, race, education level, menopausal status, oral contraceptive use, and years since last pregnancy, researchers determined the protective benefits of breastfeeding remained.

Endometrial Cancer – what you need to know

Endometrial cancer, also known as uterine cancer, begins in the uterus in the layer of cells that form the lining (endometrium).  It is the fourth most common cancer in women in the United States according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer.  The World Cancer Research Fund International states that endometrial cancer is the sixth most common cancer in women worldwide (fourteenth most common cancer overall), with more than 320,000 new cases diagnosed yearly.

Endometrial cancer is frequently detected at an early stage because it stimulates abnormal vaginal bleeding, which causes women to see their OB-GYN. When discovered early, surgically removing the uterus is frequently the best course of action for treating this form of cancer. Based on 2012-2014 data from the NIH’s National Cancer Institute, approximately 2.8 percent of women will be diagnosed with endometrial cancer at some point during their lifetime.  This video from the National Cancer Institute’s Uterine Cancer website provides a helpful overview of endometrial cancer, risk factors and prevention:

 

preventing endometrial cancer

While this research provides positive news that breastfeeding appears to reduce the risk of endometrial cancer, additional studies are needed to strengthen the link between the two. In the meantime, this initial research offers yet another positive maternal benefit for breastfeeding.

However, if you’ve struggled with breastfeeding or never breastfed an infant, it’s important to keep in mind that just because a woman chooses not to or cannot breastfeed, it does not mean she will develop endometrial cancer later in life.

After giving birth, the most important thing is to connect with and enjoy this special time with your baby. If breastfeeding isn’t possible, that’s perfectly fine. Other alternatives, such as formula and breast milk donation banks, are available to keep your baby well-fed and healthy, and there are additional ways to prevent endometrial cancer.  4 in 10 cases of endometrial cancer could be prevented by being a healthy weight and physically active, as emphasized in this infographic from the World Cancer Research Fund International.

endometrial cancer infographic

We’re here to help

Located in Fort Collins, Colo., a Woman’s Healing Center is an OB-GYN and surgical-quality aesthetics practice whose mission is to help women of all lifestyles heal their way to better health and happiness.

We accomplish our mission through deep listening and straight talk. As such we are the one and only local alternative to corporatized medicine that provides women the specialized knowledge and training of board-certified female-only obstetricians and gynecologists.

Myself, Cherie Worford, M.D., and Amy Grove, M.D. are dedicated to helping each patient through her life’s journey—from delivering her babies, to navigating the changes in her body and emotions, to offering the latest medical-grade procedures for looking and feeling younger.

If you have questions or concerns about breastfeeding, endometrial cancer, or weight loss, call us at (970) 419-1111 to schedule an appointment today.

Dr. Christine Skorberg

Dr. Christine Skorberg

Dr. Skorberg is a board-certified OB-GYN and Fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. She has been in practice more than 25 years. A telling statistic about her excellence is that more than half of local surgical nurses–who know every doctor and see how well they do their jobs–have chosen her as their OB-GYN. Read More