There is an aggressive form of breast cancer known as ER-negative. Although rarer than the ER-positive it is much harder to treat successfully. One professional says of ER-negative breast cancer, “It has a worse outlook”. ER-negative means estrogen receptor-negative and ER-positive means estrogen receptor-positive. This means that estrogen is required for the ER-positive cancer to grow.
A recent report, published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention evaluated 59,000 African-American women who took part in the Black Women's Health Study. Although the study is ongoing, findings thus far are being published. The research to date deals with women who were studied from 1995 until 2009. Initially all of the women completed a detailed questionnaire including comprehensive questions dealing with childbirth and breastfeeding. Further questionnaires were filled in every two years. Details of any diagnoses of cancer were given at these stages. An aim of the report was to identify any links between breastfeeding, childbirth and the risks of developing breast cancer.
From the study it has been discovered that African American women who breastfed had a lower risk of developing the aggressive cancer ER-negative. However women who had more children raised their risk of ER-negative breast cancer. The study found that if a woman had two or more children she was 1.5 times more likely to get negative-ER breast cancer compared to childless women. But interestingly, if the woman breastfed those children then there was no increased risk.
The study also confirmed previous findings where it was identified that having children reduces the risk of ER-positive cancer. Having more children further decreases the risk. However breastfeeding had no effect on these findings. But for the rarer, more aggressive ER-negative cancer it was found that the risk of developing it increased if the woman had children. But the risk could be negated if the mother breastfed.
The study identified 457 women with the more common ER-positive cancer and 318 with the aggressive ER-negative form of breast cancer. Some medical opinion believes that if the woman does not breastfeed then after birth the breast is subject to a condition called involution. It causes the breast to become sore and inflamed. If the woman breastfeeds then involution does not occur. As the breastfeeding stops slowly then the breast returns to pre pregnancy normality slowly. Some experts believe that this systematic return avoids inflammation which may be linked to cancer development.
African-American Mothers must learn the benefits of Breastfeeding
It has long been known that African American women are less likely to breastfeed than other ethnic groups. This study supplies another reason to encourage African American mothers to breast feed their babies. Previous research has long since identified the association between breast feeding and a lower risk of breast cancer. The benefits of breast feeding for mother and baby are further reinforced as more research takes place. Each new study gives further indications of the positive health effects. This study is considered by fellow academics and health professionals to be a very strong research paper because it has followed people over a length of time.
Health professionals advocate that doctors talk more to pregnant women and new mothers about breast feeding and its healthy effects. But there are many cases where lack of timely advice means that the mother does not know how to start breast feeding and reverts to bottles. Health professionals who try to promote breast feeding say that before the birth the woman should try to find friends or family who have already breast fed children and talk to them and get advice. They should also let the baby lie next to them to try to initiate the breast feeding and any family doctor should be a good source of advice.