, Volume 5, Issue 2, pp 175-181
Date: 21 Jan 2011

Protective effects of breastfeeding for mothers surviving childhood cancer

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Abstract

Introduction

Female childhood cancer survivors experience adverse health events secondary to cancer treatment. In healthy women, breastfeeding provides protection against many of these complications. Breastfeeding may be beneficial for mothers surviving childhood cancer by decreasing risks of, or ameliorating adverse late effects. Healthcare providers and survivors should be aware that successful lactation may be affected by previous cancer treatment.

Methods

The literature addressing lactation outcomes in cancer patients is reviewed, and processes that may disrupt breastfeeding are discussed. A summary of common late effects experienced by women is provided, and arguments are made for the potential amelioration of these complications by breastfeeding.

Results

Findings demonstrate that breastfeeding is beneficial for healthy mothers in regard to specific health conditions. There are limited data addressing breastfeeding outcomes among cancer survivors. Preliminary findings suggest that lactation is adversely affected among mothers treated for childhood cancer.

Conclusions

Fundamental research is needed to determine rates of breastfeeding in childhood cancer survivors, identify specific cancer therapies and their effects on lactation, examine the efficacy of breastfeeding in risk reduction and/or amelioration of late effects, and develop interventions to increase breastfeeding among survivors of childhood cancer.

Implications for cancer survivors

As female childhood cancer survivors transition into adult medical care, it is important each patient be aware of her past medical history and the impact of treatment on her ability to successfully lactate. If lactation is possible, these women can choose to breastfeed their children, thereby engaging in a health behavior that may help protect them against many late effects of cancer treatment.

This work was supported by the American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities (ALSAC) and the United States Public Health Service Cancer Center Support Grant CA 021765-32. No conflict of interest disclaimers by any of the authors, and these data have not previously been presented in any professional context.