03 Jun Breastfeeding May Be Linked To Lower Risk of Childhood Leukemia
Medical Research: What is the background for this study?
Dr. Amitay: Although childhood cancer is still rare, we are seeing an increase of around 0.9% annually in the incidence rate in the western world. In spite of advancements in treatment technologies, childhood cancer is a leading cause of death among children and adolescents in the western world – accounting for about 12.3% of all deaths among children age 1-14 years in the US. Childhood cancer is also emerging as a major cause of death in other parts of the world where death rates from communicable diseases are declining. Leukemia is the most common type of childhood cancer and accounts for about 30% of all childhood and adolescent cancers.
Medical Research: What are the main findings?
Dr. Amitay: The meta-analysis of all 18 studies indicated that compared with no or shorter duration of breastfeeding, breastfeeding for 6 months or longer was associated with a 19% lower risk for childhood leukemia (OR=0.81, 95% CI, 0.73-0.89). A separate analysis of 15 of those studies indicated that ever being breastfed compared with never being breastfed was associated with an 11% lower risk for childhood leukemia (OR=0.89, 95% CI, 0.84-0.94). All meta-analyses of other sub groups of studies have shown similar associations, indicating that 14%-19% of all childhood leukemia cases may be prevented by breastfeeding for 6 months or more.
Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?
Dr. Amitay: There are many health benefits to breastfeeding, in addition to other benefits as well. Breastfeeding is a highly-accessible (most mothers can biologically breastfeed), low-cost public health measure (compared to treating cancer or other preventive public health measures such as immunizations) to potentially lower the risk for a serious, potentially terminal, childhood disease. Breastfeeding should be encouraged, more information should be given to clinicians so they can help mothers breastfeed, or know to whom to refer mothers for breastfeeding assistance. Breastfeeding should be promoted and advocated, so as to become more socially acceptable thus making it easier for mothers to choose to breastfeed and for longer duration.
Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?
Dr. Amitay: The study lists several biological mechanisms that may explain the association between breastfeeding and lower risk for childhood leukemia such natural-killer cells and breast-milk stem cells with multilineage properties similar to those of human embryonic stem cells. More research is needed in this area so that we can better understand those mechanisms which may help us lower childhood leukemia morbidity and mortality.
MedicalResearch.com Interview with: Efrat Amitay, PhD, MPH, School of Public Health, University of Haifa, & Mount Carmel, Haifa, Israel (2015). Breastfeeding May Be Linked To Lower Risk of Childhood Leukemia MedicalResearch.com