Mamas on Bedrest: Breastfeeding Cuts Breast Cancer Risks in Black Women

October 13th, 2014

Black Baby BreastfeedingHi Mamas,

We all know that “Breast is Best”! Yet in this country, many women are still unaware of the benefits of breastfeeding. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Black community where the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that only 62% of African American mothers initiated breastfeeding as of 2010 data. By 6 months, only 32% of those mothers were still breastfeeding. So while lactation consultants and others will continue to promote breastfeeding citing the benefits to the baby, there is now an equally significant reason to promote breastfeeding in African American Mamas: Breastfeeding likely protects African American women against Estrogen Receptor negative breast cancer.

Estrogen Receptor negative breast cancer is a very aggressive form of breast cancer and African American women are affected at a disproportionately higher rate than white women. While breastfeeding has been shown to reduce the risk of cancer, this has previously only been shown in Estrogen Receptor positive cancers. According to this current study, African American women who have given birth had a 33% higher risk for ER-negative breast cancer than those who had never given birth, and a 37% higher risk for triple-negative breast cancer. However, breast-feeding lowered the risk for both ER-negative and triple-negative disease. Christine Ambrosone, PhD, chair of the Department of Cancer Prevention and Control at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York summarizes the findings this way:

“These data might partially explain why black women are disproportionately affected by ER-negative breast cancer; although they typically have more children than white women, they have a lower prevalence of lactation. In addition, for every age category in the United States, the incidence of triple-negative breast cancer is higher in black women than in non-Hispanic white women.”

Some researchers are skeptical of the findings, stating that it has yet to be determined that pregnancy is causative of Estrogen Receptor Negative Breast Cancer and breastfeeding reduces risk. However, Dr. Ambrose and her colleagues hold firm that their data suggest that pregnancy and childbirth might actually increase the incidence, but that breast-feeding might lower the risk.

Personally, I feel that since such a simple act could have such a significant outcome, it only makes sense to increase awareness and increase the emphasis among African American women to breastfeed. To date, there is no compelling reason for black women NOT to breastfeed. Now, with the known potential benefits to the baby and the ever emerging benefits to black mamas-now a potential protection against an aggressive form of breast cancer-breastfeeding is becoming more of a necessity than ever!

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Mamas, please share this vital information with other (black) mamas you may know who are either on the fence about breastfeeding or who are against breastfeeding. This data is too important not to share! The potential costs are too great and the solution too simple and readily available. Thank you. Let me know how you fared in the comments section below.

References: 

Medscape OB/GYN and Women’s Health

Julie R. Palmer, Emma Viscidi, Melissa A. Troester, Chi-Chen Hong, Pepper Schedin, Traci N. Bethea, Elisa V. Bandera, Virginia Borges, Craig McKinnon, Christopher A. Haiman, Kathryn Lunetta, Laurence N. Kolonel, Lynn Rosenberg, Andrew F. Olshan and Christine B. Ambrosone. “Parity, Lactation, and Breast Cancer Subtypes in African American Women: Results from the AMBER Consortium” Journal of the National Cancer institute (2014) 106 (10): dju237

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