Leukemia is the most common childhood cancer, accounting for about 30% of the total. While little is known about its cause, a new study finds that breastfeeding for six months or longer appears to lower the risk.
The authors of the study reviewed 18 earlier studies that found a 19% reduction in the risk of childhood leukemia among babies who were breastfed for six months or longer compared with those who were never breastfed or were breasted for a shorter period of time.
The study was conducted by Efrat L. Amitay, Ph.D., M.P.H., and Lital Keinan-Boker, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., of the University of Haifa, Israel, and is published online today in JAMA Pediatrics.
A separate analysis of 15 studies found that ever being breastfed compared with never being breastfed was associated with an 11 percent lower risk of childhood leukemia.
The authors suggest several biological mechanisms of breast milk may explain their results, including that breast milk contains many immunologically active components and anti-inflammatory defense mechanisms that influence the development of an infant’s immune system.
“Because the primary goal of public health is prevention of morbidity, health care professionals should be taught the potential health benefits of breastfeeding and given tools to assist mothers with breastfeeding, whether themselves or with referrals to others who can help," the rsearchers said.
"The many potential preventive health benefits of breastfeeding should also be communicated openly to the general public, not only to mothers, so breastfeeding can be more socially accepted and facilitated. In addition, more high-quality studies are needed to clarify the biological mechanisms underlying this association between breastfeeding and lower childhood leukemia morbidity,” the study concludes.