While breast cancer affects more women than in men, women may curtail the risk of breast cancer through pregnancy and breastfeeding. Studies have shown that the risk of breast cancer is low during pregnancy and breastfeeding. The risk may further be lowered after pregnancy when mothers opt to breastfeed their baby. Find out how pregnancy and breastfeeding can help lower the risk of breastfeeding.
How pregnancy and breastfeeding help prevent breast cancer
Pregnancy has been found to help prevent breast cancer mainly because it temporarily halts menstruation. During menstruation, women are exposed to hormones such as estrogen and progesterone produced in the ovaries. These hormones stimulate cell growth. Thus, a woman’s risk to breast cancer is primarily due to the length or extent of exposure to these hormones. During pregnancy and breastfeeding, estrogen levels are reduced. During pregnancy, human chorionic gonadotropin is produced. This pregnancy hormone causes newly synthesized breast cells to mature, and thereby prevented from being cancerous. The low risk is observed in women who breastfeed after pregnancy till about one to two years of duration. Thus, women’s risk is curbed when nursing soon after pregnancy and for extended periods.
Other pregnancy-related factors
Those who had a child have lower risk than those who never have been pregnant. However, women who had their first pregnancy after the age of 30 have higher risk than those women who had never given birth. It means the age of the mother during pregnancy is also a crucial factor. The underlying reason may be due to the physiological effects of alpha-feto protein, which differ depending on the age of a pregnant woman. These proteins, which regulate fetal growth, tend to promote rather than suppress breast cancer in women in their first pregnancy at age 30 or above. Studies have also found that there is a temporary heightened risk after pregnancy. The reason is not clear but could be due to the effects of hormones on the rapid growth of breast cells during pregnancy.
Pregnancy confers no absolute protection
Pregnancy and breastfeeding have been found to give women an edge against breast cancer development. However, there is no assurance that breast cancer will not develop. There are women who are diagnosed of breast cancer during and after pregnancy. It is in fact the leading form of cancer in women who are pregnant. This means that other factors involved, such as the age, lifestyle, genetic predisposition, and medical history.
Although there is no assurance that breast cancer will not develop during and after pregnancy, there are proofs indicating that pregnancy and breastfeeding can somehow guard us against breast cancer.