Breastfeeding could cut breast cancer risk for older mothers

In collaboration with the Press Association

Breastfeeding can reduce the risk of breast cancer in women who give birth for the first time after the age of 25, according to research presented at the American Association of Cancer Research annual conference.

Researchers from the University of Southern California (USC) analysed data for women aged 55 and over who had enrolled in the Women's Contraceptive and Reproductive Experiences (CARE) study, including 995 patients with invasive breast cancer, and found that breastfeeding seemed to have a protective effect against both hormone-sensitive and hormone-insensitive breast cancers.

Previous results from the Women's CARE study have shown that early age at first pregnancy (younger than 25) and having many children (defined as four or more) are associated with a lower risk of breast cancer.

Dr Giske Ursin, associate professor of preventative medicine at the USC's Keck School of Medicine, commented: "Breastfeeding may have a protective effect that negates the increased risk of breast cancer associated with late pregnancies.

"As more women may choose to delay pregnancy until after 25, it is important to note that breastfeeding provides protection."

Dr Ursin added that breastfeeding appears to have a protective effect regardless of the age at which women start giving birth.

Dr Alison Ross, Cancer Research UK's cancer information officer, said that the study confirmed previous findings about breastfeeding and the risk of breast cancer.

"Aside from family history and age, we know that the major things that affect a woman's risk of breast cancer include how early and how many children she has, the length of time between starting her periods in adolescence and the menopause, and whether or not she chooses to breastfeed," she revealed.

Dr Ross stressed that breast cancer is easiest to treat when caught early.

"It is important for all women to be breast aware, whether or not they have breastfed their children, by making sure they check for any unusual changes in the size, shape or feel of their breasts and reporting them promptly."

She added: "Women over 50 should also attend their regular breast screening appointments when invited."