Breastfeeding May Prevent Childhood Cancer But Don't Ditch the Formula Just Yet

breastfeedingIs it possible that breastfeeding could help prevent children from developing cancer? A study published in Monday's Journal of Pediatric Medicine analyzed the results of 18 previous studies and found that breastfed babies had a 14 percent to 19 percent lower risk of developing pediatric leukemia. So can we say that women should breastfeed to reduce their children's cancer risk? Not so much.

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What the study shows is that there is indeed an association between breastfeeding and a lower risk of pediatric leukemia.

But say there is also an association between the amount of ice cream sold and the number of murders that are committed. Does that mean that ice cream causes murder? No. Similarly, we should not rush to make claims about breastfeeding's ability to prevent cancer.

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There are many, many factors that go into why a child develops cancer. There are kids with cancer who were breastfed, and kids who weren't breastfed who are perfectly healthy. Dr. Patrick Brown, a spokesman for the American Society of Hematology, says in an article in USA Today that the effect across the population would be a .0005 percent to .0004 percent decrease in the risk of leukemia for breastfed children. 

So it's an interesting finding, but not one that should go in a La Leche League pamphlet anytime soon. To prove that the association is, in fact, causal, many more years of study would need to be done, and hundreds of thousands of children would need to be studied. There is no need for women to start worrying that they have increased their child's risk of cancer because they chose formula. As Dr. Brown also says in the article:

By no means should [this study] be interpreted to say that an individual child's case is caused by the fact that the mother did or did not breastfeed. By no means should that be used as a cause for feelings of guilt or blame.

Got that, moms? If you're breastfeeding, good for you. If you're not, well, that's OK too!

What do you make of studies like this?

 

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