Breast-feeding for 6 months or longer was associated with a decreased risk for childhood leukemia incidence when compared with children who were breast-fed for a shorter duration or were never breast-fed, recent data suggest.
“Childhood cancer is a leading cause of mortality among children and adolescents in the developed world and the incidence increases by 0.9% each year,” Efrat L. Amitay, PhD, MPH, from the School of Public Health at the University of Haifa in Israel, and colleagues wrote. “Leukemia accounts for about 30% of all childhood cancer, but its etiology is still mostly unknown.”
For the meta-analysis, Amitay and colleagues pooled data from PubMed, the Cochrane Library and Scopus on case-controlled, meta-analyses that examined the association between breast-feeding and childhood leukemia published from 1960 through 2014. The final analysis included data from 18 studies of 10,292 leukemia cases and 17,517 controls.
“This meta-analysis makes a significant contribution to the available evidence on this topic because it includes seven original studies on the subject not included in previous meta-analyses,” the researchers wrote.
According to study results, when compared with no or shorter breast-feeding, any breast-feeding for 6 months or longer was associated with a 19% reduced risk for childhood leukemia (OR = 0.81; 95% CI, 0.73-0.89).
In an independent meta-analysis of 15 studies, the researchers found that ever having breast-fed vs. never having breast-fed was associated with an 11% lower risk for childhood leukemia (OR = 0.89; 95% CI, 0.84-0.94). The researchers wrote, however, that the definition of never having breast-fed varied between studies.
“Breast-feeding is a highly accessible, low-cost public health measure,” the researchers wrote. “Based on current meta-analyses results, 14% to 19% of all childhood leukemia cases may be prevented by breast-feeding for 6 months or more.
“The many potential preventive health benefits of breast-feeding should also be communicated openly to the general public, not only to mothers, so breast-feeding can be more socially accepted and facilitated. In addition, more high-quality studies are needed to clarify the biological mechanisms underlying this association between breast-feeding and lower childhood leukemia morbidity.”
Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.