Breastfeed longer to reduce breast cancer risk

New Delhi: As breast cancer continues to be a rising threat for women worldwide, a study by a Britain-based NGO in Punjab says breast-feeding for a longer duration can significantly reduce the risk of the disease in pre-menopausal woman.

According to a study by `Roko Cancer`, an NGO working in 12 districts of Punjab in collaboration with the state health department, the risk of developing the disease is reduced by five percent for every year of breast feeding.

"After analysing the results of study conducted on 4,250 women in the last three years, it was felt that lack of breast-feeding has been established as an independent risk factor for cancer," Isha Bhandari, director operations (India) of Roko Cancer campaign, told IANS.

The highest number of cases in the state have been reported from the Malwa belt of Punjab that has now come to be known as the ‘cancer belt` of the state.

A high-level team of medical experts constituted by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) recently visited the region to study the high incidence of cancer cases in the region.

The study highlights excessive use of pesticide and changing lifestyle as the main reasons for the increasing cases in the region.

"Data from 4,250 women in various district of Punjab were collected over a period of three years (2006-09), making it the largest case-control study on breast cancer to be conducted in India," Bhandari said.

The study also highlights the difference in the data recorded for urban and rural women. While nine to 15 women per lakh in rural areas are affected by the disease, the number is 25 to 30 women per lakh in urban India.

"Five years ago, cervical cancer was the number one disease affecting Indian women; today it’s breast cancer, with 50 percent of the cases affecting women below 50 years of age," Bhandari said, adding that about 20 percent of the cases were reported among urban women under 35 years of age.

"Breast cancer is often provoked by the increased duration of exposure to oestrogen hormone. Children who attain puberty at an early age and women who attain late menopause are at risk. Regular physical activity among children should be encouraged as it could help delay the onset of puberty," she said.

For women with high risk factors such as a family history of breast cancer, or obesity, a check-up is recommended before their mid-30s.