October 19 is World Day to Fight Breast Cancer, but the whole month of October is tinted pink to raise awareness, make visible and raise awareness about breast cancer, which affects 1 in 8 women, and in Argentina, it is the main cause of cancer death in them. The objective of the day is to create awareness and promote the performance of annual controls in order to arrive at early diagnosis and be able to access timely treatment, thus reducing mortality. This very particular year, and despite the context of a pandemic, we cannot fail to carry out the corresponding controls, taking the necessary precautions.
The Argentine Society of Mastology recommends an annual mammogram from the age of 40 For all asymptomatic women, with normal clinical studies and no history of the disease and those women with a history of breast cancer in 1st-degree relatives (mother, sister), it is recommended to start mammography 10 years before the detection age cancer of the closest relative. It is important from the age of 20 to include a routine breast self-exam as well.
Lactation and breast cancer
When we talk about breastfeeding, we quickly think about the multiple benefits that it has in the babies who receive it and we forget about the benefits of the big one it has for the mother, the family, and the planet. Among the multiple benefits involved in maternal health, it is to be a protective factor against the development of breast cancer.
Some studies suggest that the relative risk of developing breast cancer decreased by 7.0% for each birth, to which is added another decrease of 4.3% for every 12 months of breastfeeding, and other authors express that breastfeeding between 6-24 months during a woman’s reproductive life can reduce the risk of breast cancer by 11-25%.
The breast is an organ whose function is to produce milk to feed a baby, putting it into operation makes the epithelial cells not easily differentiate into malignant cells, this together with the decrease in estrogens due to the cancellation of ovulation act as factors of protection. For this reason, the age of first pregnancy, the number of children, and the length of time of breastfeeding are considered protective factors, along with a diet based on real foods and physical exercise.
The protective role of the symbiotic and healthy microbiota (community of microorganisms that live in our intestines and have multiple beneficial functions for our health) begins in the best way with “the first food” that babies receive, “mother’s milk”, and it must continue throughout our lives with a diet rich in fiber, probiotics and real foods that nature gives us. In contrast, ultra-processed and low-fiber diets, on the contrary, lead to a path of dysbiosis and pro-inflammatory ground predisposing to cancer.
According to the latest UNICEF report published in 2018 on breastfeeding, it highlights that “breastfeeding protects women from possible bleeding and postpartum depression, ovarian and breast cancer, heart attack and type 2 diabetes” while highlighting that “it is shown that improving the numbers of breastfeeding in the world could prevent about 20,000 maternal deaths from breast cancer per year”.
So if the benefits are so clear … why do we continue to have such low lactation rates? At this point, we find all those factors that hinder it: mothers do not have professional, family, or social support and public policies that do not protect the rights of mothers and their children. We keep hearing phrases such as “your milk does not fill it”, “we are going to add formula because it is hungry” or “remove the breast that no longer feeds it”, which undermine the mother’s confidence in her body and in the power they have to benefit her health and that of your child.
We also see the rights of mothers being violated, who after 3 months have to return to their jobs and they do not have an appropriate place to express milk, making it impossible to continue enjoying the benefits that breastfeeding gives mothers and children.
I also want to highlight as a pillar the childcare providers, whose professional role is fundamental, for the support, support, and continuation of the desired lactations. Mothers find in them all the love, support, and knowledge that are sorely needed to overcome many of these obstacles. Interdisciplinary work with them is one of the keys to maternal and child health that we must protect.
When we talk about breastfeeding and breast cancer prevention, we cannot fail to mention that “breastfeeding does NOT contraindicate the performance of breast studies such as mammography and/or breast ultrasound” as routine methods of control and prevention of this disease. As it is not necessary to wean to be able to carry them out, the call is not to postpone breastfeeding controls, but to look for professionals who respect and support their decisions and know how to interpret the results of said studies during breastfeeding.
This month we have to make visible and raise awareness about breast cancer, the fundamental importance of controls, and the annual performance of mammography as a method of early diagnosis, but I would also like to invite you to reflect on the role that breastfeeding plays as a protective factor, inviting each and everyone to promote, support and sustain breastfeeding as a commitment to present and future maternal and child health since if we add all the benefits it has in this population we can reaffirm that “breastfeeding saves more lives than any other preventive health intervention ”.