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Breastfeeding and leukaemia

Protection from malignant disease is less well-known than the many other benefits of breastfeeding, but it might just convince some new mothers to stay away from formula. Researchers from Israel reviewed all studies that looked at associations between breastfeeding and leukaemia specifically (Amitay EL et al. JAMA Pediatr 2015. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2015.1025). They found 18 case-control studies involving over 27 000 children, most of which showed some protective effect. Because studies reported breastfeeding duration differently they did two meta-analyses: one showed that any breastfeeding for 6 months or longer compared with none or <1 month reduced leukaemia risk by 19% (OR 0.81; 95% CI 0.73–0.89); the other showed that ever vs never breastfed reduced risk by 11% (OR 0.89; 0.84–0.94). The effect was seen only in lymphoblastic leukaemia, although numbers of myeloid cases may have been too small to draw conclusions. They suggest that the most likely biological mechanisms are a beneficial effect on the gut flora, or ingestion of protective stem-cells from breast milk. Confounding by socioeconomic group is possible, as both breastfeeding and leukaemia are associated with higher status, but this would be a factor only …

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