Breast­feed­ing may lower risk of child­hood leukemia, ac­cord­ing to study

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL -

Breast­feed­ing a baby for at least six months may be linked to a lower risk of child­hood leukemia, ac­cord­ing to a re­view of pre­vi­ously pub­lished re­search on the topic Mon­day.

The find­ings in the Jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion (JAMA) Pe­di­atrics sug­gest that breast­fed ba­bies have a 19 per­cent lower risk of the blood can­cer com­pared to ba­bies who are given for­mula or who are breast­fed for a shorter pe­riod of time.

“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,” said the study led by Efrat Ami­tay and Li­tal Keinan-Boker of the Uni­ver­sity of Haifa, Is­rael.

Their study re­viewed 18 past stud­ies on the as­so­ci­a­tion be­tween breast­feed­ing and leukemia, the most com­mon child­hood can­cer. It ac­counts for about 30 per­cent of all pe­di­atric can­cers.

While none of the stud­ies ex­plained why or how breast milk could be low­er­ing the risk of child­hood leukemia, the re­searchers sug­gested it con­tains “many im­muno­log­i­cally ac­tive com­po­nents and anti- in­flam­ma­tory de­fense mech­a­nisms that in­flu­ence the devel­op­ment of an in­fant’s im­mune sys­tem.”

How­ever, not all ex­perts agree that the find­ings are the last word on the mat­ter.

“The sug­ges­tion that chil­dren who had been breast­fed might be at a re­duced risk of child­hood leukemia has been around for decades,” said Va­lerie Beral, pro­fes­sor of epi­demi­ol­ogy at the Uni­ver­sity of Ox­ford.

“How­ever pre­vi­ous re­search, and that de­scribed in this new re­port, are not suf­fi­ciently rig­or­ous to con­firm or re­fute such a claim.”

She no­ticed par­ents were asked about what they had done around the time their chil­dren were born, and thus “par­ents’ mem­ory of what they had done years ago was af­fected by the knowl­edge that their child had leukemia.”

“The re­searchers had no way of as­sess­ing such an im­por­tant po­ten­tial prob­lem, which could well have dis­torted their re­sults,” she added.

Ac­cord­ing to Mel Greaves, direc­tor of the Cen­tre for Evo­lu­tion and Can­cer at the In­sti­tute of Can­cer Re­search in Lon­don, the type of can­cer stud­ied — acute lym­phoblas­tic leukemia (ALL) — is un­com­mon and only af­fects about one in 2,000 chil­dren.

“This study also fits in with in­creas­ing ev­i­dence that in­fants who are ex­posed to in­fec­tions — through at­tend­ing day care or con­tact with older sib­lings — are less vul­ner­a­ble to this type of leukemia,” said Greaves.

“Ex­tended breast­feed­ing and nat­u­ral in­fec­tious ex­po­sures in in­fancy were part and par­cel of hu­man life un­til rel­a­tively re­cently.

“The in­creas­ing in­ci­dence of ALL in mod­ern, af­flu­ent and hy­gienic so­ci­eties may be an un­in­tended con­se­quence of th­ese so­cial changes.”

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