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Am J Epidemiol. 1999 Jul 15;150(2):174-82.

Lactation in relation to postmenopausal breast cancer.

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Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, WA, USA.


A modest inverse association between lactation and breast cancer risk has most consistently been observed in premenopausal women, and certain breastfeeding patterns, such as prolonged duration and early age at first lactation, may be important determinants of risk. However, these associations have not generally been observed in relation to postmenopausal breast cancer. As part of a multicenter population-based case-control study, the authors examined postmenopausal breast cancer risk according to breastfeeding characteristics. Breast cancer patients aged 50-79 years were identified from statewide tumor registries in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin from July 1992 through July 1995. Similarly aged control women were randomly selected from population lists. Information regarding lactation history and breast cancer risk factors was obtained through telephone interviews. This analysis included only data on parous postmenopausal women (3,633 cases and 3,790 controls). After adjustment for age, parity, age at first birth, and other breast cancer risk factors, breastfeeding for at least 2 weeks was associated with a slightly reduced risk of breast cancer in comparison with women who had never lactated (relative risk = 0.87, 95% confidence interval 0.78-0.96). There was only a modest suggestion that increasing cumulative duration of lactation was inversely associated with breast cancer risk; the relative risk for women who had breastfed for > or =24 months was 0.73 (95% confidence interval 0.56-0.94) (p-trend for duration = 0.10). Age at first lactation was not consistently associated with risk. Modest inverse associations appeared to persist even up to 50 years since first lactation. Use of hormones to suppress lactation was not associated with postmenopausal breast cancer, nor was inability to breastfeed related to risk. These results suggest that lactation may have a slight and perhaps long-lasting protective effect on postmenopausal breast cancer risk.

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