Saturday, September 19, 2009

Breast feeding could reduce cancer cases

Staff from the Aga Khan University Hospital, Nairobi (in pink caps left and right)  register women for the free breast and cervical cancer checks on Saturday conducted by the hospital at the Nakumatt Lifestyle, Nairobi. The campaign, known as Act Now Don’t Wait Until October, saw over 400 women screened. Photo/WILLIAM OERI

Staff from the Aga Khan University Hospital, Nairobi (in pink caps left and right) register women for the free breast and cervical cancer checks on Saturday conducted by the hospital at the Nakumatt Lifestyle, Nairobi. The campaign, known as Act Now Don’t Wait Until October, saw over 400 women screened. Photo/WILLIAM OERI 

By ARTHUR OKWEMBA and DANIEL WESANGULA

Allowing women to take maternity leave in order to breast feed or designating feeding rooms at the work could reduce cases of potential breast cancer.

New findings show that young women who come from families with a history of breast cancer, and who decided to breast feed after birth, have a 59 per cent lower risk of developing the malignant disease. Young professional women who are ditching breast feeding in pursuit of beautifully toned bodies might be setting themselves up for breast cancer.

Women who have a sister or mother who has breast cancer are at higher risk of developing cancer before they reach menopause, if they opt not to breast feed, says the study published in the last month’s Archives of Internal Medicine.

This is good news for Kenyan women, where breast feeding is promoted for its nutritional value to the baby with little or no linkage being made to other health benefits such as reduction in development of breast cancer.

This awareness saw hundreds of women turned up for a free breast cancer clinic held yesterday at the Nakumatt Lifestyle in Nairobi . The clinic was held by the Aga Khan University Hospital in conjunction with the supermarket as an awareness campaign to avail more cancer information to women of all ages.

The campaign which offered free breast cancer checks, known as “Act Now, Don’t Wait Till October” and was intended to increase the number of women going for voluntary breast check- ups.

Traditionally, many breast checks are conducted in October which is officially the breast cancer awareness month. Mr Joseph Kaguthi, the Kenya Cancer Association chairman, said that such clinics should be held more often.

“This forum has reduced the distance between the patients and the specialists,” said Mr David Makumi, oncology services manager of the Aga Khan University Hospital. Currently, more than 25,000 Kenyan women are estimated to be nursing breast cancer, with some having inherited it.

At the Kenyatta National Hospital, 900 new breast cancer cases were diagnosed at the facility last year, 360 of them being women aged between 20 and 35 years, the reproductive period when many give birth.

This is just a tip of the iceberg as the country lacks a cancer registry to capture some of the cases in a more organised and comprehensive manner. Cancer has no known cure, and any information that might help prevent it is an encouraging finding.

According to the researchers of the report published in Archives of Internal Medicine, the reduction in risk due to breast feeding compared well with women at high risk of breast cancer who reduce the chances of developing the disease by taking tamoxifen – a hormone therapy that is used to alter levels of female estrogen hormone, which is behind the malignant growth of breast cells.

Nine years

The study involved over 60,000 women in the United States who were followed for a period of nine years. All of them had given birth and had no cancer at the time of birth. At the end of the nine years, pre-menopausal breast cancer had been diagnosed in 608 women.

Of these, only 41 per cent who had breast fed and had cancer in their immediate family developed the disease, meaning 59 per cent did not have cancer after breast feeding. Those women who failed to breast feed, but used medication to suppress milk production, reduced their risk of developing the cancer by 42 per cent.

Breast feeding or taking medication were both found to be effective in preventing breast cancer because failure to suckle an infant results in abrupt swelling and intense inflammation of the breast tissues. It is suspected that this inflammation leads to development of breast cancer.

Lead researcher, Dr Alison M. Stuebe, of University of North Carolina, is quoted by Reuters as saying: “That’s why we need supportive hospital policies, paid maternity leave, and workplace accommodations so that women can meet their breast feeding goals.”

This findings are adding those published less than two years ago and which indicated that women who gave birth before the age of 25 and breast feed, had a lower risk of developing breast cancer that is caused by hormones.

Such linkage is coming at time when career women are delaying to have children until they are 30 years and above. Scientists are worried that many of these women are also the ones who do not breast feed their babies, further increasing their risk of developing the disease.

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