In a surprising finding, Harvard scientists studying the rise of colorectal cancers in young people have found a link to breastfeeding. The study, published in the journal Gut, found that people who were breastfed as infants were at a higher risk of being diagnosed with colorectal cancer before the age of 55. The longer a person was breastfed, the higher their risk.
The study analyzed data from over 100,000 people in the Nurses’ Health Study II and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. Over the course of the study, there were over 1,000 cases of colorectal cancer diagnosed before the age of 55.
Researchers found that people who were breastfed for four to eight months had a 17 percent higher risk of developing colorectal cancer before the age of 55, and those who were breastfed for nine or more months had a 36 percent higher risk.
The study’s lead author, Dr. Kimmie Ng, an oncologist at Harvard Medical School, said that the team is still trying to understand why breastfeeding is associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer in young people. However, she believes that it may be due to changes in the gut microbiome, which is the community of trillions of bacteria that live in the gut.
“Breastfeeding is known to have many health benefits for both mothers and babies, but our findings suggest that it may also increase the risk of colorectal cancer in young people,” Ng said. “More research is needed to understand why this is the case and to identify potential ways to mitigate the risk.”
It is important to note that the study found an association between breastfeeding and colorectal cancer in young people, but it did not prove that breastfeeding causes colorectal cancer. More research is needed to confirm the findings and to understand the underlying mechanisms.
What does this mean for parents?
Parents should not stop breastfeeding their babies because of this study. The benefits of breastfeeding far outweigh the potential risks. However, parents should be aware of the findings and talk to their doctor about their child’s risk of colorectal cancer.
If you are concerned about your child’s risk of colorectal cancer, talk to your doctor about screening guidelines. The American Cancer Society recommends that people with an average risk of colorectal cancer begin screening at age 45. However, people with a higher risk of colorectal cancer, such as those with a family history of the disease or those with inflammatory bowel disease, may need to start screening earlier.
While the findings of this study are surprising, it is important to remember that they are preliminary and more research is needed. Parents should not stop breastfeeding their babies because of this study. However, they should be aware of the findings and talk to their doctor about their child’s risk of colorectal cancer.