Journal of Cancer Survivorship

, Volume 5, Issue 2, pp 175-181

First online:

Protective effects of breastfeeding for mothers surviving childhood cancer

  • Susan W. OggAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
  • , Melissa M. HudsonAffiliated withDepartment of Oncology, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
  • , Mary E. RandolphAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
  • , James L. KloskyAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital Email author 

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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.


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.


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.


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.


Childhood cancer Survivorship Lactation Breastfeeding Late effects Prevention