Childless Women and Breast Cancer Risk

I went to my doctor for a check-up this week and the subject of breast exams came up. My doctor (he’s relatively new to me) asked me if I had children and when I told him I didn’t, he said, “Well having children and breastfeeding can help reduce the risk of breast cancer.” It was all I could do to say, “Well then, I’ll just get right on that!”

In my doctor’s defense, it was just a passing comment and not any kind of accusation that I was neglecting my health by not having children, but I couldn’t help but think that this was just another strike against childlessness. Regardless I decided it was my civic duty to research this and report back to you.

A Google search of “childless breast cancer” turned up more contradicting facts than a political sex scandal and starling little trustworthy information. I found this:

Women who had their first full-term pregnancy after age 30, and women who have never borne a child have a greater risk of developing breast cancer. During pregnancy, estrogen levels surge so high that there is a small immediate risk of breast cancer, but the long-term effect, particularly with breast-feeding, decreases risk.

Starting at about age 45, childless women are at an increased risk for breast cancer in comparison with women who have had children, with the risk being from 20 to 70 percent greater.

That’s a big increase in risk, but the source was a pharmaceutical company selling breast cancer preventative medicine, and I couldn’t find similar numbers elsewhere. I did discover that women over 5” 7” tall have a greater risk (two strikes against me) and this article that confirmed that childless women were at greater risk, as were women with more than five children, teenage mothers, and mothers with children closer than 18 months apart. So a tall teenage mother of five or more children under age 7 is basically up the creek.

I also found a blog post on the same subject from two years ago! The fact that this two-year-old post hit the front page of my search suggests that this topic isn’t getting a lot of love

If you happen to have these statistics, please share them, but the bottom line is this: There are so many conflicting risk factors; some us will get lucky and some of us won’t. All we can do is take care of ourselves and check those breasts ladies! I will confess to not being disciplined about doing regular self-exams. I do it when I remember, but not on any regular schedule. That ends this month. Here’s a useful link that offers e-mail reminders to do your monthly self-exam as well as instructions on how to do it.