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Breastfeeding may protect women who survive childhood cancer

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Treatment for childhood cancer can cause a series of health problems in survivors.  A new study in Journal of Cancer Survivorship suggests however breastfeeding may help female childhood cancer survivors reduce the adverse effects of the treatment.

According to the background information of the study report, one in every 640 young adults ages between 20 and 39 will survive childhood cancer. Eighty percent of children and teens treated with conventional cancer therapies now survive, meaning they can live more than five years after diagnosis.

Survivors suffer significant health challenges both from the cancer itself and the treatment. Conventional cancer therapies impair growth and development leading to organ dysfunction, reproductive disorders and increased risk of cancer recurrence among other things.

Susan Ogg and colleagues from St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee reviewed studies on benefits from breastfeeding for women who survived a childhood cancer and found breastfeeding potentially influenced positively bone mineral density, metabolic syndrome risk factors, cardiovascular disease, and secondary cancers.

Ogg and colleagues conclude: "Alongside advice to eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, abstain from smoking, use suitable sun protection, practice safe sex and take part in regular physical activity, women who have survived childhood cancer and are physically able to breastfeed, should be actively encouraged to do so to help protect them against the many lasting effects of cancer treatment."

David Liu