Childhood Cancers

Research on infant health

Research on the links between breastfeeding and cancer

A causal mechanism for childhood acute lymphoblastic leukaemia

This review explores the multifactorial causation of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL). It argues that there are three stages to the development of the disease: an initial genetic mutation that takes place in the womb; a lack of exposure to microbes in the first year of life, and a childhood infection which can cause immune system malfunction. The study highlights the important role that microbes play in determining health outcomes, as well as the value of breastfeeding in supporting the development of these microbes in an infant’s gut.

Greaves, Mel, (2018). A causal mechanism for childhood acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, Nature Reviews Cancer,

Further analysis of this review available here:

Breastfeeding and childhood leukemia

This meta-analysis looked at the association between breastfeeding and childhood leukaemia and found that, compared with no or shorter breastfeeding, any breastfeeding for 6 months or longer was associated with a 19% lower risk for childhood leukemia. The authors conclude that promoting breastfeeding for 6 months or more may help lower childhood leukemia incidence, in addition to its other health benefits for children and mothers.

Amitay, E.L. & Keinan-Boker, L. (2015).  Breastfeeding and Childhood Leukemia Incidence: A Meta-analysis and Systematic Review. JAMA Pediatrics, 169(6):e151025. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2015.1025

Meta analysis of Breastfeeding and Childhood Leukemia

This study concluded that both short-term and long-term breastfeeding reduce the risk of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and acute myeloblastic leukemia (AML). A significant, negative association was observed between long-term breastfeeding and both ALL risk.

Kwan ML et al (2004). Breastfeeding and the risk of childhood leukemia: A meta-analysis. Public Health Rep 119: 521-35.

Breastfeeding reducing risk of Childhood Acute Leukemia

Information regarding breastfeeding was obtained through telephone interviews with mothers of 1744 children with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) and of 456 children with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). Ever having breastfed was found to be associated with a 21% reduction in risk of childhood acute leukaemia. The inverse associations were stronger with longer duration of breastfeeding. The authors acknowledge the need for further investigation.

Shu XO et al (1999) Breast-feeding and risk of childhood acute leukemia. J Natl Cancer Inst 91: 1765-72

Breastfeeding reducing risk of Hodgkin’s disease

This qualitative review of 9 published case-control studies suggest that children who are never breast-fed or are breast-fed short-term have a higher risk of developing Hodgkin’s disease (HD), but not non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma or acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The authors speculate that human milk may make the breastfed infant better able to negotiate future carcinogenic insults by modulating the interaction between infectious agents and the developing infant immune system or by directly affecting the long-term development of the infant immune system. They comment that further research is needed and that improved measurement of infant feeding should be addressed.

Davis MK (1998) Review of the evidence for an association between infant feeding and childhood cancer. Int J Cancer Suppl 11: 29-33

Related research and further reading

Emerging research: Epigenetics and the microbiome

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The impact of breastfeeding on maternal and child health: Acta Paediatrica special issue

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The Lancet: Increasing breastfeeding worldwide could prevent over 800,000 child deaths every year

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