Pregnancy and Breast Cancer Risk

Breast Cancer Awareness Month is the annual campaign to encourage support for research of the disease, as well as early detection. A lot of progress has been made in understanding breast cancer risk factors. Do you know yours?

pregnancy breast cancer riskStudies have shown that a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer is related to her exposure to hormones — estrogen and progesterone — that are produced by her ovaries. Pregnancy reduces a woman’s lifetime number of menstrual cycles, and thus her cumulative exposure to those hormones. Evidence suggests that the risk of breast cancer declines with the number of children a woman has.

There are other pregnancy-related factors linked to risk of breast cancer. Women who give birth before age 30 have a lower risk of certain types of breast cancer than mothers who have children after age 30. Scientists also are studying whether certain hormones and proteins associated with preeclampsia may lead to decreased chances of breast cancer risk.

If you’re pregnant and considering whether to breastfeed your baby, it’s worth noting that breastfeeding can lower breast cancer risk, especially if a woman breastfeeds for longer than one year. Researchers have found that producing milk all day, every day limits cancer cells from growing.

Also, most women have fewer menstrual cycles when they’re breastfeeding, and that contributes to less hormone exposure we already mentioned. Another reason linked to breast health is indirect. Many women live healthier lifestyles while nursing. They eat more nutritious foods, don’t smoke and limit alcohol consumption – all related to cancer prevention.

Few things in life are as difficult as receiving a cancer diagnosis. It’s important to be informed and take the steps you can to know your risk and detect disease early. Protect yourself!