Western women could reduce their breast cancer risk bynearly 60% if they breastfed their children longer. Thishelps explain why breast cancer is now a major killer,despite being almost unknown 200 years ago.

Having an average of six children and breastfeeding them fortwo years would reduce the incidence of breast cancer tothird world levels according to the Cancer Research U.K.organization. “Clearly this is not a realistic option forthe modern woman,” says Valerie Beral, of the CancerResearch U.K. Unit in Oxford, who led the research. “Buteven if women in the West were to breastfeed each of theirchildren for an extra six months this could prevent five percent of breast cancers each year.”

Researchers have suspected there is a link betweenchildbearing and breast cancer for years, since they notedhigh levels of the disease in nuns, compared to the generalpopulation. The breast cancer rate for nuns in the 19thcentury was 6.3 per cent, which is the same rate Britishwomen have at the beginning of the 21st century.

The new study by Cancer Research U.K. looked at data from 47different studies of over 150,000 women in 30 countries andhas proved there?s a link. A third of the women studied hadbreast cancer. Scientists looked at their number ofchildren, duration of breast feeding and economic andeducation levels.

They found that for every year she breast feeds, a woman?srisk of breast cancer declines by 4.3%. Sir Paul Nurse, ofCancer Research U.K., says, “Clearly it’s not rocket scienceto assume that there’s a hormonal effect.”

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