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Breastfeeding lowers leukaemia risk

Breastfeeding for a few months may lower the risk of leukaemia in children.

Breastfeeding lowers leukaemia risk

Breastfeeding for a few months may lower the risk of leukaemia in children.The analysis of previous studies found that overall, longer-term breastfeeding was linked to a 24 per cent lower risk of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), the most common form of childhood leukaemia. Breastfeeding for 6 months or less appeared to reduce ALL risk by 12 per cent. Breastfeeding was also linked to a lower risk of acute myeloblastic leukaemia (AML), a form of the cancer that has accounted 16 per cent leukaemia cases among U.S. children.
Leukaemia is a disease in which the bone marrow produces large numbers of abnormal, immature white blood cells, crowding out normal blood cells over time. The core difference between ALL and AML is in the type of white blood cell affected.Previous studies have yielded conflicting results whether breastfeeding affects children's leukaemia risk. Researchers from the University of California, USA conducted a study, which included more than 8,000 children with ALL or AML. The findings strongly suggest that breastfeeding is protective.Breastfeeding is known to have a number of health benefits, including a lower risk of common childhood infections. This particular benefit, may explain the connection between breastfeeding and lower leukaemia risk.Other researchers have theorised that a rare, abnormal immune response to early-life infection may play a role in ALL. In children with genetic aberrations that predispose them to the disease, such an abnormal immune response could act as a secondary promoting event that results in ALL. Breastfeeding, through its benefits for the developing immune system, may protect against such an immune response.The finding that breastfeeding was also related to a lower risk of AML was not anticipated on biological grounds. It's possible that a separate immune-based mechanism underlies this relationship, but more research is needed to answer that question. Researchers cautioned that women who cannot breastfeed should not worry they are putting their children at greater cancer risk. Instead, this study suggests that lower leukaemia risk might be something to add to the list of the potential benefits of breastfeeding.
Public Health Reports,
November 2004
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