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Breast Feeding & Childhood Leukaemia

Childhood leukemia or cancer of the white blood cells is the most common type of cancer in children and teens. The benefits of breastfeeding have been reiterated in a new systematic review and meta-analysis published in JAMA Pediatrics that reports an association between breastfeeding and lower risk of childhood leukemia.

Risk Factors

Leukemia is the second highest cause of death among under-15s. Known risk factors for leukemia include Down syndrome and exposure to Epstein-Barr virus or ionizingradiation. The risk for childhood leukemia increases if your child has:

  • An inherited disorder such as Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Down syndrome, or Klinefelter syndrome
  • An inherited immune system problem such as ataxia telangiectasia (a rare, neurodegenerative, inherited disease causing severe disability).
  • A brother or sister with leukemia, especially an identical twin
  • A history of being exposed to high levels of radiation, chemotherapy, or chemicals such as benzene (a solvent)
  • A history of immune system suppression, such as for an organ transplant.

How does breast milk protect again leukemia?

Suggesting a potential mechanism behind the protective effects of breast milk, the authors of the study explain that breast milk influences the development of an infant’s immune system as it contains assorted immunologically active components and anti-inflammatory defense mechanisms. These mechanisms may include conferring a “more favorable” gut microbiome to the infant as well as supplying stem cells.

Breast milk is a “total food,” the researchers explain, able to exclusively supply all of infants‘ nutritional needs. Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization currently recommend that babies should be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life to ensure healthy growth and development.

After that first 6 months, it is recommended that infants receive nutritious and safe complementary foods, but that breastfeeding can continue for up to 2 years, or even longer.

  • ↵1 Factors that potentially may impart an imprint on the child’s own immune system.

Symptoms of Childhood Leukemia

Symptoms of leukemia often prompt a visit to the doctor. This is a good thing because it means the disease may be found earlier than it otherwise would. Early diagnosis can lead to more successful treatment.

Common symptoms include:

  • Fatigue or pale skin
  • Infections and fever
  • Easy bleeding or bruising
  • Extreme fatigue or weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing

Other symptoms may include:

  • Bone or joint pain
  • Swelling in the abdomen, face, arms, underarms, sides of neck, or groin
  • Swelling above the collarbone
  • Loss of appetite or weight loss
  • Headaches, seizures, balance problems, or abnormal vision
  • Vomiting
  • Rashes
  • Gum problems

Again, most of the symptoms above are more likely to be caused by something other than leukemia. Still, it’s important to have these symptoms checked by a doctor so the cause can be found and treated, if needed.

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