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Breastfeeding May Benefit Childhood Cancer Survivors

Jill Stein
Published: Wednesday, Mar 02, 2011
For women who have survived childhood cancer, breastfeeding may help counter some of the long-term complications that occur as a result of their prior cancer treatments, researchers say.

Susan Ogg and associates at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, reviewed medical literature that examined whether female childhood cancer survivors were able to successfully breastfeed. Given the established benefits of breastfeeding in healthy women, the group aimed to determine whether childhood cancer survivors could garner the same benefits.

Their analysis showed that breastfeeding was able to improve the deleterious late effects of cancer treatment on bone mineral density deficits, metabolic syndrome risk factors, cardiovascular disease, and second malignant cancers.

Eighty percent of children and adolescent cancer patients who are treated with current cancer regimens will achieve long-term survival, the researchers pointed out. The number of adult survivors of childhood cancer is expected to continue to increase, and as many as 75% of these survivors will develop a chronic health problem because of their prior cancer therapy.

To date, strategies to decrease the "expression and severity" of the adverse side effects related to childhood cancer have involved primarily preventive measures, including frequent medical screenings and recommendations for "protective health behaviors," Ogg and colleagues stated in their article. They maintain that breastfeeding should be included in such initiatives.

"Follow-up care of survivors should include secondary and tertiary prevention such as strategies to promote tobacco cessation or avoidance, physical activity, safe sexual practices, and proper weight management," they say. "Because of its associated positive health benefits, breastfeeding is an additional strategy that should be recommended to mothers surviving cancer as a behavior that may modify risks associated with late effects."

The investigators emphasized, however, that it is extremely important that healthcare providers consider the possibility that female survivors of childhood cancer may be unable to lactate or successfully breastfeed because of specific cancer treatments. In fact, early data suggest that childhood cancer survivors with intact hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axes who retain their fertility are sometimes not able to lactate as a result of cranial irradiation therapy during their childhood. Healthcare providers should assess women survivors of a childhood cancer individually and discuss nutritional options with mothers who may be at risk of lactation dysfunction due to cancer treatment.

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Ogg SW, Hudson MM, Randolph ME, Klosky JL. Protective effects of breastfeeding for mothers surviving childhood cancer. J Cancer Surviv. 2010 Jan 21. [Epub ahead of print] doi:10.1007/ s11764-010-0169-z.

Published in Oncology & Biotech News. February 2011.


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