Black Women Who Don’t Breastfeed At Risk For Breast Cancer

Life & Love | Gerren Keith Gaynor | 09/29/2014 | 01:15 PM EDT

Women of color who nurse their children may also prevent aggressive tumor subtype

African-American women who do not breastfeed their children are at a greater risk of an aggressive type of breast cancer, according to

In a new study, researchers revealed the results of an analyzed group of Black women (3,700), determining that one-third of them had estrogen receptor-negative breast cancer, which is a tumor subtype that is more common in Black women and carries a higher risk of mortality.


Women with children were one-third more likely to develop estrogen receptor-negative breast tumors compared to those who never had children, according to a research team that led by Julie Palmer, a professor of epidemiology at Boston University's Slone Epidemiology Center.

According to the study, whether or not a mother breastfed her infants may influence her risk for the tumor.

HealthDay reports:

For example, the results indicated that women who had four or more children but had never breast-fed were 68 percent more likely to develop an estrogen receptor-negative breast cancer, compared to women who had only one child but did breast-feed.

Breast cancer cells are often influenced by the presence of estrogen if they have certain "receptors" on the surface of the cell. So, breast cancer subtypes include estrogen receptor-negative and estrogen receptor-positive tumors.

When it came to estrogen receptor-positive tumors, the study found that women who had four or more children had a slightly lower risk for these cancers, whether or not they had breast-fed their babies.

The results of the study were published Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Although the study found an association between a lack of breastfeeding and cancer risk, it’s yet to prove a cause and effect.


Other research indicated that the overall risk of breast cancer may be higher for women during the first five to 10 years after giving birth. That risk is reduced after that time. However, this new study suggests that the risk for estrogen receptor-negative breast cancer may persist.

"Breast cancer mortality is disproportionately high in African American women of all ages, in part due to the higher incidence of estrogen receptor-negative breast cancer, with fewer targets for treatment," Palmer said.

While breastfeeding is known to have great benefits for infants, it may also be a "factor that could prevent some cases of this breast cancer subtype and reduce the number of African American women dying from this disease,” she adds.

(Photo: KidStock/Getty Images)

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