Pink October: Is it true that breastfeeding prevents breast cancer?

Although there is still a lot of misinformation on the subject, lactation can reduce the woman’s risk of developing the disease. Understand the reason!

One of them – and perhaps the one that most generates doubts in women – is breastfeeding. The search “Breast cancer: health care during quarantine”, carried out by IBOPE at the request of Pfizer in September 2020, even showed that among the interviewees 63% of women do not know that breastfeeding is a protective factor against the disease.

Well, despite the misinformation that still surrounds the subject, lactation has proven to help prevent the condition. “We have several epidemiological studies that show that breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast cancer”, says Dra. Maria Del Pilar, Director of Clinical Staff and Coordinator of Clinical Oncology at the Cancer Institute of the State of São Paulo – ICESP.

That is, breastfeeding women have less breast cancer than women who never breastfed. This is because, according to data from the National Cancer Institute, during the period of breastfeeding the rates of certain hormones that favor this type of cancer fall on the mother.

“In addition to this, some processes that occur in breastfeeding promote the elimination and renewal of cells that could have lesions in the genetic material, thus decreasing the chances of breast cancer in women”, complements the article published by the Institute.

And in this balance of prevention comes another component: the duration of breastfeeding. According to the doctor, the longer lactation, the less chance the woman has of developing the disease – and this protective effect is cumulative, so the duration matters more than the number of pregnancies the woman has had. “It is estimated that this relative risk is reduced by 4.3% for every 12 months of breastfeeding”, says Maria.

Can a woman get breast cancer while breastfeeding?

Yes, although it is rare. “Less than 3% of breast cancer cases happen during pregnancy or breastfeeding”, replies an ICESP specialist. She adds that when lactation coincides with the stage of investigation of the disease, in which the woman has her first exams and biopsy, there is no need to interrupt her.

“Breastfeeding will only be interrupted when the woman needs to undergo treatment with chemotherapy, because it is transmitted through breast milk and can negatively affect the child”, adds the doctor.

Other ways to prevent

Breastfeeding is important, but even those who are not yet mothers can be attentive to some attitudes that should help prevent the disease. “It is estimated that we would be able to reduce the risk of breast cancer by up to 30% by changing the lifestyle, ”says Dr. Maria.

And this means, according to her, adopt healthier habits. “It is important that women control their weight, because obesity is a risk factor, and that they are physically active. I also recommend that, if it is necessary to use hormone replacement therapies, they should be done as little time as possible; that avoids radiation exposure; and that limits the use of alcohol and smoking ”, he adds.

Of course, preventive exams could not be left out of the list. For the early detection of the disease and increased chances of treatment and cure, it is essential that the woman undergo a mammogram when indicated by the doctor and that she is attentive to the signs in the breasts, doing periodically self-examination.

“If you find any changes in the breast (such as nodules, discharge, nipple inversion, etc.), it is important to see the gynecologist to find out if it is a normal change or if it is necessary to investigate further,” recommends the doctor.

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