New Brunswick, N.J. – Mothers who have a history of breast cancer may have questions about the safety and possibility of breastfeeding. Investigators at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey recently conducted a systematic review on the feasibility and challenges of breastfeeding among breast cancer survivors of reproductive age. Their findings suggest that breastfeeding from the unaffected breast is feasible for some breast cancer survivors. Trishnee Bhurosy, PhD, a researcher in the Cancer Prevention and Control Program at Rutgers Cancer Institute, is lead author of the work and shares more about the findings published in the September 2020 edition of Annals of Surgical Oncology (doi: 10.1245/s10434-020-09094-1).
Why is this topic important to explore?
Breastfeeding not only provides essential nutrients for a baby’s healthy growth but also benefits the mother’s health in numerous ways. Breastfeeding can improve the survival rates and overall quality of life of breast cancer survivors of reproductive age after treatment. However, there is a lack of information on the prevalence of women who breastfeed after breast cancer treatment and what their experiences are regarding breastfeeding.
Describe the work and tell us what the team discovered?
Our team conducted a systematic review to search for studies that examined breastfeeding rates among breast cancer survivors of reproductive age as well as factors associated with breastfeeding. Thirteen articles were included in this review, which varied widely from one another. We found that between 7.7 and 90.9 percent of breast cancer survivors attempted breastfeeding. Breastfeeding duration varied from a few weeks to more than two years. Important factors that participants reported in helping them to breastfeed were use of the unaffected breast, support from multiple sources, and lactation counseling. Challenges that participants faced while breastfeeding from the treated breast were difficulties in latching, reduced milk production, and breast pain. Those who breastfed their infants from the unaffected breast found it to be a major commitment and physically challenging.
What are the implications of these findings?
It is important to promote safe and feasible breastfeeding among breast cancer survivors who wish to breastfeed their infants. There is a need for breastfeeding support and advice during prenatal counseling and postpartum care. Breast cancer survivors might benefit from the skills and knowledge from a multidisciplinary team comprised of physicians specializing in breastfeeding medicine, oncologists, pediatricians, nurse practitioners, lactation consultants, and other healthcare professionals. In addition, support from a network of family members, friends and employers can help reduce barriers to breastfeeding.
Along with Dr. Bhurosy, other authors of the work includepostdoctoral associate, Zhaomeng Niu, PhD and their mentor, Carolyn J. Heckman, PhD, co-leader of the Cancer Prevention and Control Program at Rutgers Cancer Institute and associate professor of medicine at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.This work was supported by the National Cancer Institute Cancer Center Support Grant (P30CA072720).
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