18th-Century Evidence Of Possible Breast Cancer Cure

News, Opinion — By on March 29, 2010 at 8:13 am

As early as 1700, Bernardino Ramazzini, the Italian founder of occupational medicine, recognised that there was one female occupation whose members were far more likely to die from breast cancer than any other – nuns.

Evidence for the protective effect of having children and breastfeeding has accumulated in the years since. In the 1920s, British doctor Janet Lane-Claypon’s pioneering epidemiological survey for the Ministry of Health demonstrated that breast cancer was linked to a woman’s number of children, lactation, and age at first pregnancy and menopause.

There have been debates over which of these factors is more important, but the size of the Million Women study, led by Valerie Beral from the clinical epidemiology unit at Oxford University, has made its results fairly conclusive. Beral yesterday challenged the medical industry to turn its attention to preventing the disease.

The Million Women study found having a first baby at a young age is protective, as is late onset of puberty and early menopause. Taller and heavier women are at greater risk. But the biggest protective factors are the number of children and years of breastfeeding. A woman has a 7% decreased risk of breast cancer per birth and her risk drops by a further 4% for every year of breastfeeding.

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