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Breast-feeding may prevent leukaemia

Tuesday June 2nd, 2015

Children that are breast-fed enjoy a reduced risk of developing leukaemia, researchers reported tonight.

Campaigners welcomed the findings as highlighting the benefits of breast-feeding.

The researchers say they raise questions about what triggers childhood leukaemia and how it might be prevented.

Reporting in JAMA Pediatrics, the researchers in Haifa, Israel, report an analysis of a total of 18 studies of breast-feeding.

This showed that a child breast-fed for six months enjoys a 19% lower risk of developing leukaemia compared with other children.

And a child that was never breast-fed faced a 12% greater risk of developing the disease than other children.

Researchers Dr Efrat Amitay and Dr Lital Keinan-Boker say breast-feeding influences the development of a child's immune system and breast milk contains anti-inflammatory chemicals.

They write: "Because the primary goal of public health is prevention of morbidity, health care professionals should be taught the potential health benefits of breastfeeding and given tools to assist mothers with breastfeeding, whether themselves or with referrals to others who can help.

"More high-quality studies are needed to clarify the biological mechanisms underlying this association between breastfeeding and lower childhood leukaemia morbidity."

Janet Fyle, of the UK Royal College of Midwives, said: “Breastfeeding is a fundamental contributor to better public health; it lays the foundations for better health and has a positive impact on the health and wellbeing of mothers and their babies. The beneficial effects of breastfeeding last a lifetime.

"Given the increasing focus on public health we should be doing all we can to encourage it."

* Children born to fathers over the age of 35 face an increased risk of developing blood cancer, according to a major new study.

Researchers also found that children without siblings were at the greatest risk.

One possibility is that modern hygiene contributes to risk of these cancers, the researchers say. An only child is less likely to be exposed to infections than one with brothers or sisters, the researchers say.

This would explain why there is an increased risk of cancers of the immune system - such as lymphoma, leukaemia and myeloma, they say.

The findings come from a study of some 138,000 people involved in a major study by the American Cancer Society. Over a 17 year period some 2,532 of these developed a blood cancer.

The findings were reported in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

They showed that children of fathers over the age of 35 were 65% more likely to develop a haematological cancer than those with fathers under the age of 25.

Researcher Dr Lauren Teras, from the American Cancer Society, said: "The lifetime risk of these cancers is fairly low - about one in 20 men and women will be diagnosed with lymphoma, leukaemia, or myeloma at some point during their lifetime - so people born to older fathers should not be alarmed.

"Still, the study does highlight the need for more research to confirm these findings and to clarify the biologic underpinning for this association, given the growing number of children born to older fathers in the United States and worldwide."

Am. J. Epidemiol 11 May 2015; doi:10.1093/aje/kwu487 JAMA Pediatr. 1 June 2015; doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2015.1025 [abstract]

Tags: Asia | Cancer | Child Health | Men's Health | North America | UK News | Women's Health & Gynaecology

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