Does breastfeeding prevent breast cancer?

A researcher calls for intensive study for better care

Venkat Raman

The high rate of obesity and increasing incidence of breast cancer are issues of concern in New Zealand and hence need more research and study.

While breastfeeding can control obesity in children in their formative and later years, it can also protect women from contracting breast cancer.

However, there is not enough data to take appropriate action.

Therefore, there is a need for more research.

These are among the views of Massey University PhD candidate Narges Alianmoghaddam, who is pursuing research on the subject.

“Breastfeeding can help control obesity in our children during their childhood and adulthood lives, but it also has a protective impact on breast cancer in breastfeeding mothers. Research shows, every 12 months of breastfeeding in a woman’s lifetime leads to a significant decline in the risk of developing invasive breast cancer significantly. Through promoting breastfeeding, the New Zealand health system could reduce rates of obesity and breast cancer to a certain extent,” she said.

Inadequate Research

Her paper titled, ‘Breast Cancer, Breastfeeding and Mastectomy: A Call for More Research,’ in the world’s most cited breastfeeding journal, Journal of Human Lactation has evinced interest among medical scientists and researchers.

Ms Alianmoghaddam wrote the Paper with her doctoral supervisor Associate Professor Cheryl Benn with colleagues Dr Kaveh Khoshnood and Professor Holly Powell Kennedy from Yale University, United States and Dr Minoor Lamyian from Tarbiat Modares University, Iran, highlighting the lack of research relating to the potential protective effects of breastfeeding after breast cancer.

“Our paper draws attention to the high rate of mastectomy (removal of the entire breast) among premenopausal women across the world. Removal of breasts eliminates the chance of future breastfeeding, an optimal method of infant feeding. Although we found several studies that show the possibility of breastfeeding in breast cancer survivors, especially in women who had breast conserving therapy (removal of the tumour only, with treatment via radiation therapy) or unilateral mastectomy, we could not find any research on the protective effect of breastfeeding after breast cancer treatment regarding recurrence of breast cancer, or developing breast cancer in the second breast for breast cancer survivors. I would like to pursue this research further, and hope to do so in my post-doctorate studies,” Ms Alianmoghaddam said.



Global statistics

She said that breast cancer is the most common form of cancer affecting women worldwide and that recent research published in The Lancet by Professor Cesar Victora et al (University of Pelotas, Brazil) showed that with the current rate of breastfeeding, about 20,000 breast cancer deaths are prevented globally, compared to if no women breastfed.

“There is a chance an additional 20,000 deaths caused by breast cancer could be prevented annually if the duration of breastfeeding increases to one year per child amongst women in high-income countries including New Zealand, or to two years per child in low and middle income countries. In New Zealand, the rates of exclusive breastfeeding at six months continue to decline, while health professionals, especially midwives and lactation consultants, are actively involved in promoting and supporting six months exclusive breastfeeding,” Ms Alianmoghaddam said.

“Patients under 40 years of age make up about 5% of the overall breast cancer population in the United States. In New Zealand, in 2011, more than 11% of breast cancer patients were aged 25 to 44. However, in developing countries, including Arab countries, that rises to half of the breast cancer patients being in the reproductive age range,” she added.

For successful breast conserving therapy, breast cancer should be detected in the early stages, but detection in childbearing age women is challenging.

Although mammography can save lives via diagnosing breast cancer about five years earlier than clinical examinations, it is less efficient in reproductive age women for several reasons including high rates of false negative results, breast density and over-diagnosis, she said.

Editor’s Note: The above is only an extract. For full text of the report, please visit

Photo: Narges Alianmoghaddam

(Picture by Massey News)

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