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Breast Feeding Protects Cancer Survivor’s Health

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Cancer related image Photo: Getty Images

Doctors from St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., said that if cancer survivors breast feed their children, they have better health and a better quality of life. They suggest that advising women to breast feed should be part of the other guidelines that include healthy diet and exercise.

One in 640 people between 20 and 39 years of age is now a survivor of childhood cancer. Due to more effective therapies than in previous generations, 80 percent of children and teenagers with cancer will now survive. While this is good news, conventional cancer treatments such as chemotherapy cause long-term health problems for the patient, such as impaired growth and development, organ dysfunctions, reproductive problems, immune system impairment and re-occurrence of cancer.

The doctors reviewed the existing research on whether female survivors of cancer who are still fertile can successfully breast feed. They also looked at the state of health of the women and their levels of cancer treatment-related toxicity.

They found that the women who breastfed their children had better bone mineral density, less chance of metabolic disease, heart disease and secondary tumors.

Susan Ogg, head of the review, said, "Alongside advice to eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, abstain from smoking, use suitable sun protection, practice safe sex and take part in regular physical activity, women who have survived childhood cancer and are physically able to breastfeed, should be actively encouraged to do so to help protect them against the many lasting effects of cancer treatment."

Source: References Ogg SW et al (2011). Protective effects of breastfeeding for mothers surviving childhood cancer. Journal of Cancer Survivorship. DOI 10.1007/s11764-010-0169-z

Joanna is a freelance health writer for The Mother magazine and Suite 101 with a column on infertility, http://infertility.suite101.com/. She is author of the book, 'Breast Milk: A Natural Immunisation,' and co-author of an educational resource on disabled parenting, in addition to running a charity for people damaged by vaccines or medical mistakes.

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