Regardless of your biological sex, all humans have a small amount of breast tissue. The breast lays over your chest muscles and is made up of fatty tissue and connective tissue that retains its shape. Breasts also have lymph vessels and nodes – these help to transport immune cells and remove any waste. The breast also contains glandular structures that produce milk.
Breast cancer occurs when cells in the breast tissue start to grow and multiply out of control. Primarily, breast cancer affects women, but it can also occur in men. Several factors determine the type of cancer you have, its stage and your treatment options, these are:
- Where cancer starts
- Whether its cells express specific receptors (e.g., oestrogen, progesterone, HER2)
- If it is invasive or non-invasive
Keeping your body healthy is commendable at any age. But if you are planning to have children, your health is even more important so that you are around them for as long as possible. To do so, leading a healthy lifestyle is key as it will reduce the risk of getting a serious disease like cancer.
Apart from a healthy lifestyle, research has explored other links between female health and lower risk of breast cancer later in life. Scientists have posed the question ‘does breastfeeding reduce breast cancer’ and you would be very surprised to find that the answer is yes.
Health Benefits of Breastfeeding
Health Benefits of Breastfeeding for Mothers:
Apart from the well-documented benefits of breastfeeding such as bonding with your baby, healthy hormone release, weight loss and easier post-partum recovery, many health benefits become apparent in the long run.
The more time a woman has spent breastfeeding the greater the benefit. These long-term benefits are not discussed very often, but they can be significant and reduce the risk of a variety of diseases including:
Breast cancer – research shows that nursing for two or more years can reduce the chances of developing breast cancer by almost 25%. Another study concluded that the relative risk of breast cancer decreased by 4.3% for every 12 months of breastfeeding (Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer 2002).
Heart disease – a study from 2009 showed that breastfeeding for at least 24 months reduces your risk of developing coronary heart disease by 23% (Ten Steps, 2012).
Rheumatoid arthritis – Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital concluded that nursing for 12-23 months lowered the risk of arthritis by 20% (Ten Steps, 2012).
Diabetes – evidence has suggested that nursing women are at a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life (Ten Steps, 2012).
Osteoporosis – the risk of developing osteoporosis for women who do not breastfeed were four times higher than for those who breastfeed. Although women experience bone-mineral loss during breastfeeding, the mineral density is more than replenished and increased after lactation.
Breastfeeding seems to be closely linked to a reduced risk of preventable diseases at an older age.
Where it pertains to women, many things can be done to reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. One of the main ones is regular breast screening. The incidence of breast cancer increases with age and while the NHS breast screening program begins at 50 years, almost 10,000 under the age of 50 sadly develop this disease each year.
Health Benefits of Breastfeeding for Babies:
There are numerous benefits of breastfeeding for babies. Starting with the fact that breastmilk provides the ideal nutrition for babies (Bjarnadottir, 2020). It has a great balance of vitamins, fats, and proteins that the baby needs to grow and develop outside the womb and later in life.
The World Health Organisation has established that in the long run, babies who have been breastfed have lower blood pressure, lower total cholesterol as well as lower risk levels of becoming obese or developing type 2 diabetes (Horta et al., 2007).
It has been shown that breastmilk coFntains antibodies that help fight viruses and bacteria and it lowers a child’s risk of developing asthma or allergies (Cleveland Clinic, 2018). A study also found that breastfeeding a baby for 6 months or more lowered the risk for childhood leukaemia by 19%.
A survey by The Series from 2016 revealed that if we were to increase breastfeeding to near-universal levels for infants and young children, we could be saving over 800,000 children’s lives a year worldwide as well as prevent an extra 20,000 deaths from breast cancer every year.
In another study a meta-analysis of 17 studies indicated that compared with no or shorter breastfeeding, any breastfeeding for 6 months or longer was associated with a 20% lower risk for childhood leukaemia (Amitay & Keinan-Boker, 2015).
As such you can see that there is a relationship between breastfeeding, breastmilk, and cancer regarding how one is actively preventing the other both in mothers and children alike. To be able to provide the benefits of breastfeeding for your baby, ensure your health level through regular checks and breast screening. This will give you peace of mind and catch anything before it becomes cancer.
Preventive Breast Cancer Screening
Breast cancer is the leading cause of death in women aged 20-84. A study analysing the benefits and harms of breast cancer screening from 2013 found that breast screening programmes in the UK that invite women aged 50-70 every 3 years for a preventive breast cancer screening save about 1,300 lives per year (Marmot et al., 2013).
Another study from 2015 has found that for women of all ages at average risk of this disease, breast cancer screening was associated with reduced mortality of around 20%. These studies indicate that perhaps there should not be a strict minimum screening age.
Several types of breast exams can be done to find any abnormalities in your breast tissue, these include:
A mammogram is a breast x-ray. It uses low-dose x-rays to examine your breasts. During this exam, a mammographer will take two or more x-rays of your breast wherein they can see any abnormalities that could be indicative of breast cancer. The more recent digital mammogram stores the images on digital film allowing for more detailed analysis than the traditional single film image.
A breast ultrasound uses sound waves to create images of your breast tissue. This exam is usually used to screen younger women who have more dense breasts and to analyse any abnormalities that may be found during mammography. The accuracy of this exam can depend highly on the skill level of the technician that is performing it.
Breast Tomosynthesis (3D Mammography)
This is a recent technological development that generates 3D images of breast tissue from traditional mammograms. It is more accurate than the 2D mammograms and it is especially beneficial for assessing women with denser breast tissue as these can make it more difficult to notice any abnormalities.
A breast MRI uses radio waves and a magnet to create a detailed image of the breast on the computer. Studies have shown that a combination of regular mammography and breast MRI scans have more advantages over other screening methods for women at higher risk of breast cancer.
This is a physical exam that is used to check both breasts, your underarms and collarbone area for any unusual bumps or other irregularities. Self-exams are not to be substituted for professional ones but they can help if you find something you are concerned about.
Preventive Health Assessments in London
Echelon Health aims to protect your most valuable asset. We know that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach when it comes to everyone and their unique circumstances. Read our testimonials to learn how we adapt to help each of our clients and their individual needs.
As a result, we offer a wide range of options for different scans and packages. This includes our Core Cancer package which aims to detect the highest risk cancers at the earliest possible stage.
Core Cancer covers leukaemia, breast, prostate, colon, liver cancer and more. The exams performed in this package are blood tests, CT abdomen, CT pelvis, CT virtual colonoscopy, MRI prostate, Ultrasound thyroid, Ultrasound testes/ovaries and a digital mammogram.
If you are interested in a fully comprehensive head-to-toe check, we have the Platinum Assessment which is one of the most comprehensive in the world. It can detect up to 94% of the causes of premature deaths in males and females and utilises the most advanced imaging technologies including MRI, CT scan and Ultrasound which leaves no stone unturned.
For more information on our services, you can contact us or download our brochure.
Article reviewed by Paul Jenkins MA MD FRCP.
Ten Steps (2012). Benefits of breastfeeding for the mother. Available at: http://www.tensteps.org/benefits-of-breastfeeding-for-the-mother.shtml (Accessed 19/10/21).
Bjarnadottir, A. (2020). 11 Benefits of Breastfeeding for Both Mom and Baby. Healthline. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/health/breastfeeding/11-benefits-of-breastfeeding (Accessed 19/10/2021).
Cleveland Clinic (2018). The Benefits of Breastfeeding for Baby & for Mom. Cleveland Clinic. Available at: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/15274-the-benefits-of-breastfeeding-for-baby–for-mom (Accessed 19/10/2021).
Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer. (2002). Breast cancer and breastfeeding: collaborative reanalysis of individual data from 47 epidemiological studies in 30 countries, including 50 302 women with breast cancer and 96 973 women without the disease. The lancet, 360(9328), 187-195.
Amitay, E. L., & Keinan-Boker, L. (2015). Breastfeeding and childhood leukemia incidence: a meta-analysis and systematic review. JAMA pediatrics, 169(6), e151025-e151025.
Horta, B. L., Bahl, R., Martinés, J. C., Victora, C. G., & World Health Organization. (2007). Evidence on the long-term effects of breastfeeding: systematic review and meta-analyses.
Marmot, M. G., Altman, D. G., Cameron, D. A., Dewar, J. A., Thompson, S. G., & Wilcox, M. (2013). The benefits and harms of breast cancer screening: an independent review. British journal of cancer, 108(11), 2205-2240.
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (2021). Mammograms & Other Types of Breast Exams. Available at: https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/types/breast/mammograms-breast-exams (Accessed 19/10/2021).