Waiting to Have Kids Reduces Breast Cancer Risk
A study shows that waiting until your mid-to-late 20s to get pregnant helps protect you from a rare but aggressive form of breast cancer
If you’re in your early 20s and thinking about having a baby, waiting until you’re around 27 years old may come with the very nice health bonus of reducing your risk for a rare, but aggressive form of breast cancer, according to new research from Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
What’s so special about being 27? In the study of 1,960 women between the ages of 20 and 44, researchers found that younger moms who waited at least 15 years after their first menstrual period to have a baby were up to 60 percent less likely to develop “triple-negative” breast cancer. Since the average age of menstruation in the US is right around 12 years old, this makes the ideal pregnancy age around 27 years old. Moms older than this also saw their chances for aggressive breast cancer reduced, but researchers say the protective benefits peaked right around the 15-year mark.
“We found that the interval between menarche and age at first live birth is inversely associated with the risk of triple-negative breast cancer,” says lead researcher Christopher I. Li, MD, PhD, a member of the Public Health Sciences Division at Fred Hutchinson.
While relatively uncommon—it makes up only 10 to 20 percent of all breast cancers cases—triple-negative breast cancer is difficult to contain and treat. It does not respond to hormone-blocking cancer drugs.
What else helped reduce breast cancer risk? Breastfeeding. Regardless of age, researchers found that women who breastfed also saw their chances for ever developing triple-negative breast cancer reduced.
“Breastfeeding is emerging as a potentially strong protective factor against one of the most aggressive forms of breast cancer,” Li reports.
It’s not clear why waiting to have a baby and breastfeeding have such a protective effect when it comes to breast cancer. But these results may be particularly important for African American women who see triple-negative cancers far more frequently than other women do, according to Li, who also points to statistics that show black women tend to start having babies at younger ages and have lower breastfeeding rates.
Li, in a statement, also adds that these results need to be confirmed, so his findings should be interpreted with caution.
In the meantime, what else can you do to reduce your risk?
Former medical director of the Dr. Susan Love Breast Research Foundation, Dixie Mills, MD, offers some easy-to-follow tips to help reduce breast cancer risk, no matter your age:
- Get Those Omega-3s: While there are some mixed reports about breast cancer risk and fish consumption, new research shows that women who consume more omega-3′s are statistically less likely to develop breast cancer. Since your fish intake is limited when you’re pregnant, you may want to talk to your doctor about taking an omega-3 supplement—it can have benefits for baby’s brain, too!
- Enjoy the sun: The sunshine vitamin—vitamin D—is being investigated for its power to prevent breast cancer and other types, too. Countless studies show that women with higher vitamin D levels are less prone to develop breast cancer, and have lower risk of recurrence, according to Mills. If you’re pregnant, vitamin D is also important for your baby’s bone growth.
- Exercise: A recent report from the World Health Organization tells us that there is a 20–40% decrease in the risk of developing breast cancer for women who are physically active. According to Mills, “A few hours of walking a week… [makes] a big difference not only for women looking to prevent breast cancer, but also for those who have been diagnosed, and are looking to heal.”
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