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Breastfeeding promotes health of women treated for childhood cancer

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Women surviving childhood cancer could minimize some of the effects of treatment by breastfeeding, found in a review of studies.

Given the long lasting effects of cancer treatment, researchers from St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee suggest women who survive childhood cancer should be aware of the positive benefits of breastfeeding as part of other recommendations for following a healthy lifestyle.

The scientists note that 80 percent of children diagnosed with cancer survive, but the effects of cancer treatment can linger. The researchers reviewed studies that showed evidence that breastfeeding should be encouraged for women who survive childhood cancer, if they are physically able. Doing so was found to offset some of the lasting effects of cancer treatment.

The benefits of breastfeeding found in the review that was conducted by Susan Ogg and colleagues were directly related to the effects of childhood cancer treatment.

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Included were improved bone mineral density, lower risk for cardiovascular disease and decreased risk of developing secondary tumors, all of which can occur as the result of chemotherapy and other treatments for cancer given in childhood.

"Alongside advice to eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, abstain from smoking, use suitable sun protection, practice safe sex and take part in regular physical activity, women who have survived childhood cancer and are physically able to breastfeed, should be actively encouraged to do so to help protect them against the many lasting effects of cancer treatment", write the authors.

Breastfeeding has been encouraged for a number of reasons that include improved health for mother and baby and positive economic impact. Mother and baby both benefit. The new findings show women who survive childhood cancer should be encouraged to breastfeed and that doing so can ameliorate some of the lingering effects of cancer treatment.

Ogg SW et al (2011). Protective effects of breastfeeding for mothers surviving childhood cancer. Journal of Cancer Survivorship. DOI 10.1007/s11764-010-0169-z