Breast Cancer Risk May Increase With Childbirth

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A study published in the Journal Annals of Internal Medicine on Jan. 1, 2019, stated that childbirth may increase the risk of breast cancer. Women continue to have the risk of breast cancer for 23 years after the birth of their last child.

Hazel Nichols, the study’s author of the study and is an epidemiology assistant professor at the University of North Carolina. The study showed that the risk of a woman getting breast cancer continues for five years after childbirth. The chance of being inflicted with cancer lessened as time passed.

After 23 years, it appears that childbirth actually protects a woman from the disease.

Experts state there is a small risk of getting the disease. If a woman takes care of herself, she should not be worried about developing breast cancer after giving birth to a child.

Nichols stated the study’s sample group were women 55 and younger. Generally, women in that age bracket in a lower risk bracket. Nonetheless, the risk of breast cancer is higher five years after childbirth.

However, the increased possibility of developing it after childbirth is small compared to the total number of cases diagnosed.

The researcher also mentioned that if the study started following the women at 40 years of age, by the time they reached 50, those who recently gave birth would have a 2.2 percent chance of developing the illness versus 1.9 percent who did not.

She stressed that the number of cases of women developing breast cancer immediately after childbirth was small. Since this group represents the opposite of what is already known about the risk in women who are older.

Other Health Agencies Breast Cancer Data

The National Cancer Institute reported there are many factors pertaining to pregnancy that will decrease the risk. Some of those factors are the age of the woman having their first child. It is considered safer to have a first pregnancy under the age of 20. Other examples are giving birth to more than one child, and breastfeeding for an extended period of time.

The study also discussed that that a woman had an increased chance of developing breast cancer if they gave birth to their first child when they were older than 30. Another factor which may cause an increase in risk factors was if the woman was prescribed by their doctor the drug Diethylstilbestrol, a synthetic estrogen, while pregnant.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reported breast cancer is the number one type of cancer that results in death for women. In 2018, approximately 627,000 women around died from this illness. This equates to 15 percent of all cancer-related deaths in women.

The United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) stated that each year 450 men die from breast cancer in the United States.

Twelve percent of women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime, according to both Cancer Research U.K. and the National Cancer Institute, also in the U.K.

 Correlation Between Breast Cancer Risk and Childbirth

A research study entitled the “Premenopausal Breast Cancer Collaborative Group” combined the results of 15 previously performed studies. The data was gathered from different studies conducted in the United States, several European countries, and Australia. The information from the studies included the results of 889,944 women who were younger than 55. Also included were women also tested negative for the disease.

After reviewing the data it was noted that women who had children had a greater risk of developing the disease. The risk peaked five years after they have given birth and continued for 20 years. Furthermore. breastfeeding had no impact on the results. After 23.6 years since a woman’s first childbirth, the rift of developing breast cancer shifted.

The study also showed that some of the things affecting the risk were the woman’s age at the time of her first birth, the number of pregnancies, and a family history of the disease. Not included were women diagnosed with breast cancer while pregnant or immediately after giving birth.

Should the Data Influence Decision To Have A Child?

Although not having participated in the study, Dr. Francisco Esteva a medical oncologist from New York’s NYU Langone Health’s Perlmutter Cancer Center stated that even though there is no explanation for the increased risk, a young woman should be made aware of the possible risks.  Moreover, they should be told that this risk can continue for over 20 years. This is true especially if the woman is older at the time of the birth of her first child, she has had multiple pregnancies, or there is a history of the disease in her family.

Dr. Erica Mayer, a clinical investigator and medical oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute Breast Oncology Center, who also did not participate in this study, stated that the results of the study should not change the minds of women regarding whether or not to have children. The decision to have children is a personal one, and the risk of the disease is modest.

Of higher importance is monitoring the risk of cancer in a woman who is premenopausal. Equally important is to determine if a woman is at high risk due to her family history. Should this be the case, her doctor will order a mammogram.

Chair of the Department of Medicine and Physician-in-Chief at Massachusetts General Hospital Dr. Katrina Armstrong wrote an editorial in response to the study posted in Annals of Internal Medicine. She stated the study adds to mounting evidence that there is a risk of a woman getting breast cancer after having a child. This study is consistent with others.

However, this should not change the way a woman makes decisions goes about breast cancer screening or taking part in breast cancer prevention. She also stressed that women who have abnormalities of the breast should have a diagnostic evaluation regardless of when she had a child.

All woman should partake in behavior that naturally reduces the risk of developing breast cancer such as having a healthy lifestyle, limiting alcohol, and regularly exercising. These healthy choices should be adhered to regardless of when a woman had a child.

Written By Barbara Sobel
Edited by Cathy Milne-Ware


National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: The Premenopausal Breast Cancer Collaboration: A Pooling Project of Studies Participating in the National Cancer Institute Cohort Consortium.
Annals of Internal Medicine: Breast Cancer Risk After Recent Childbirth: A Pooled Analysis of 15 Prospective Studies
National Cancer Institute: Reproductive History and Cancer Risk
World Health Organization: Breast cancer
Center For Disease Control: Breast Cancer Statistics
Centers For Disease Control Basic Information About Breast Cancer
NHS: ‘One in eight’ will get breast cancer
National Cancer Institute: Breast Cancer Risk in American Women
CNN: Increased breast cancer risk might last decades after childbirth, study says
Medical News Today: Childbirth may increase risk of breast cancer
The Sunday Times: Having a first baby at 35 raises breast cancer risk for decades

Featured and Top Image Courtesy of ~Pawsitive~Candie_N’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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