Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Health & Baby

Font Size

Breastfeeding May Prevent Breast Cancer

Diet, Activity Level, Hormone Replacement Therapy Play Bigger Roles
WebMD Health News

July 18, 2002 -- Here's more news about the protective effects of breastfeeding -- this time for mom. When a woman breastfeeds more than a year, she may be reducing her breast cancer risk.

The study builds on previous research, outlining the preventive effects of childbirth and breastfeeding, and appears in this week's issue of The Lancet.

However, other cancer experts note, this study overstates that impact.

"Lifestyle plays an even greater role," says Debbie Saslow, PhD, director of breast and gynecological cancer at the American Cancer Society. "Diet, activity level, hormone replacement therapy are all factors that affect women's risk [of developing breast cancer]. This study gives the impression that breastfeeding offers more protection than it does."

In the study, researchers pooled and analyzed data on nearly 150,000 women involved in 47 studies in 30 countries. All the studies included information on breastfeeding patterns and other aspects of childbearing for about 50,000 women with invasive breast cancer. They combined that data with information on 97,000 women without breast cancer.

Among their findings: Women in Western countries breastfeed for shorter periods than other women around the world. Yet, when women do breastfeed, they decrease their risk of breast cancer by 4% for every year spent breastfeeding, in addition to a decrease of 7% for each birth.

The patterns "are significant and are seen consistently for women from developed and developing countries, of different ages and ethnic origins, and with various childbearing patterns and other personal characteristics," writes study author Valerie Beral, PhD, an epidemiologist at Oxford University in England.

True, "we've known that the longer a woman breastfeeds, the more protection she has against breast cancer -- this is more evidence," Saslow tells WebMD.

"Policymakers in developed countries should make it as easy as possible to breastfeed, especially when women want to go back to work," she says. "However, I don't think we should overstate the value of breastfeeding -- or make women feel guilty if they didn't breastfeed."

The decision to breastfeed is a very personal one, and "women have a lot of reasons whether they breastfeed or not," says Saslow. "Some reasons may be more important to the individual mother than protecting herself from breast cancer."

Women should not feel guilty -- or that they are going to be at a greatly increased risk for breast cancer -- if they choose not to breastfeed, she says.

Baby's First Year Newsletter

Because every week matters, get expert advice and facts on what to expect in your baby's first year.

Today on WebMD

mother on phone holding baby
When you should call 911.
parents and baby
Unexpected ways your life will change.
baby acne
What’s normal – and what’s not.
baby asleep on moms shoulder
Help your baby get the sleep he needs.

mother holding baby at night
mother with sick child
Chinese mother breast feeding newborn baby girl
Track Your Babys Vaccines
Baby Napping 10 Dos And Donts
Woman holding feet up to camera
Father kissing newborn baby
baby gear slideshow