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Breastfeeding May Offer Preventative Benefits for Childhood Cancer Survivors

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Cancer related image Photo: Getty Images

Susan Ogg and colleagues at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital are on a mission. They want women who survived childhood cancer to know they may be able to offset some of the negative health effects of their early cancer treatment by breastfeeding.

The researchers are making all women aware of the benefits of breastfeeding, and are encouraging doctors, nurses and lactation experts to recommend breastfeeding as part of routine post-cancer diet and healthy lifestyle recommendations.

Clearly, we’ve come a long way baby when it comes to increasing childhood cancer survival rates. Unlike just a few decades ago, 80 percent of children and adolescents treated with modern cancer therapies now survive. That means one in every 640 young adults between the ages of 20 and 39 will be a survivor of childhood cancer.

However, cancer treatment is not without risks later in life. This growing number of cancer survivors faces significant health challenges, including a variety of adverse effects of the cancer itself and its treatment. These late effects include impaired growth and development, organ dysfunction, reproductive difficulties as well as increased risk of a secondary cancer recurrence.

It is well established that breastfeeding confers a number of health benefits to infants and their mothers. Breastfeeding potentially provides protective effects against many health conditions, including cardiac disease, breast cancer, obesity, bone density problems and diabetes. In addition, breastfed infants are at a significantly decreased risk for a large number of acute and chronic diseases, as well as cancer.

Ogg and her team wanted to know if what is good for baby is also good for mother, especially if mom is a childhood cancer survivor. By reviewing existing research, the team looked at whether women can successfully breastfeed after childhood cancer treatment, the long-term effects of early cancer treatment on women's health in general, and how breastfeeding may help to reduce both the risk and impact of cancer-related toxicity in those who survive.

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