Breastfeeding is one of the greatest gifts you can give your baby, but did you know that it works wonders on your own body too? A new study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that women who breastfeed have a lower risk of recurrence of the luminal A subtype of breast cancer (the most commonly diagnosed of all breast cancers).
While we already know that it has tons of other benefits — from burning calories to reducing lifetime risk of breast cancer — this is “the first study we’re aware of that examined the role of breastfeeding history in cancer recurrence,” says Marilyn L. Kwan, PhD, lead author of the study.
Kwan, who is a research scientist with the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research, worked with other researchers to analyze 1,636 breastfeeding questionnaires completed by women with breast cancer. Careful analysis revealed three big benefits of breastfeeding. First, among women with breast cancer, those who breastfed were “more likely to get the luminal A subtype of breast cancer, which is less aggressive” and easier to treat, said Kwan. Second, women diagnosed with this subtype had lesser risks of breast cancer reoccurrence. Third, women who breastfed were 28 percent less likely to die from breast cancer.
The researchers praise the protective effect of breastfeeding, noting that it may set up a “molecular environment” that makes tumors more responsive to therapy. Although they’re still working to figure out why women who breastfeed develop less aggressive tumors in the first place, the connection is clear. In fact, the more nursing the better, the study found.
“The protection was even stronger for women who had a history of breastfeeding for 6 months or more,” concluded Kwan.