A new study has found that the more times a woman gives birth, the higher her risk of `triple-negative` breast cancer, a relatively uncommon but particularly aggressive subtype of the disease. However, women who never give birth have a 40 per cent lower risk of such breast cancer, which has a poorer prognosis than other types of breast cancer and does not respond to hormone-blocking therapies such as tamoxifen. "Unlike most breast cancers, triple-negative tumours don`t depend on hormonal exposures to grow and spread, so our assumption going into the study was that reproductive factors would not be associated with a woman`s risk of this cancer subtype," said Amanda Phipps, a postdoctoral research associate in the Public Health Sciences Division of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. While never giving birth appears to be protective against triple-negative breast cancer, the researchers found that women who remain childless have about a 40 per cent higher risk of estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer – the most common form of the disease. For the study, which was based on data from the Women`s Health Initiative, Phipps and colleagues analysed the detailed reproductive histories of some 150,000 postmenopausal women, more than 300 of whom went on to develop triple-negative breast cancer. "We do know that the hormones of pregnancy induce certain changes in the cellular structure of the breast. Overall, those changes seem to make the breast less susceptible to cancer. It is possible, however, that the increased risk of triple-negative breast cancer we found in women who had given birth may be due to some abnormal response of their breast tissue to the hormones of pregnancy," said Phipps.
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