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 A study has reviewed 18 clinical trials and reported a significant inverse association between breastfeeding and childhood leukemia.

The most common form of childhood cancer is leukemia. While the rates of both acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) and acute myeloid leukemia (AML) in children are increasing, there is still little known about what causes these forms of cancer.

We have previously reported on studies that have demonstrated the benefits of breastfeeding for both infant and mother:

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics has reported on a review of studies assessing the association between childhood leukemia and breastfeeding. The review included a total of 18 studies published between 1995 and 2012, giving a total number of 10 292 participants with leukemia, and 17 517 participants without leukemia.

When including all 18 studies in the analysis, the study reported that breastfeeding or 6 months or longer was associated with a reduced risk of childhood leukemia. These results remained unchanged when taking into account incidence of leukemia in Western countries compared with other countries. The researchers also separately analysed data for cases of ALL and AML. For ALL the results showed a significant association between breastfeeding for 6 months or longer and reduced risk of ALL. However, for AML there was no significant association found. Overall, in all analyses, with the exception of AML alone, breastfeeding for at least 6 months was significantly associated with up to 19% reduction in risk of childhood leukemia.

Being the largest, most recent review of available studies on the association between breastfeeding and childhood leukemia, this report provides further support for current recommendations that encourage breastfeeding for at least 6 months to maintain overall health and nutrition of infants. Breastfeeding is a low-cost, highly accessible way to potentially lower the incidence of childhood leukemia, with many other demonstrated benefits for both infants and mothers.

Participants are currently being recruited for another study to assess the effectiveness of a breastfeeding support program via text-messaging, as a tool to improve breastfeeding behaviours among women. The study hypothesis is that additional pre- and post-natal support measures for women will increase the rate of breastfeeding during the first six months. Termed the ‘LATCH’ trial (Lactation Advice Through Texting Can Help), women will receive text messages to support them with breastfeeding information. In addition, the women can respond to the text messages with any questions they may have. The study is being conducted at the Yale School of Public Health, New Haven, Connecticut, United States.



Amitay, EL, Keinan-Boker, L “Breastfeeding and Childhood Leukemia Incidence:  A Meta-analysis and Systematic Review” JAMA Pediatr. 2015;169(6):e151025. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2015.1025. “LATCH: Lactation Advice Thru Texting Can Help” Available from: Last Accessed: June 5, 2015.

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Written by Deborah Tallarigo, PhD

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