These days, many women are delaying pregnancy for their own career-based reasons. While the risk of infertility looms over these women, there is another risk they should be also aware of before postponing pregnancy; the risk of breast cancer. Delaying first pregnancy has been linked with an increased risk of breast cancer while, having kids at an earlier age can help women prevent the occurrence of breast cancer.
Read on to learn how early pregnancy can help you protect yourself against breast cancer and its complications.
Protective Factors Reside Within the Breast
The ultimate cause of breast cancer has not been discovered yet. Several factors such as heredity, presence of a particular gene (called BRCA1 gene) and other environmental factors are known to increase the risk of breast cancer in women. Recent studies have reported that certain protective mechanisms which can prevent the occurrence of breast cancer are present within the breast. These mechanisms were noted to be initiated during the first full term pregnancy (pregnancy that lasts for the complete term and ends with the delivery of the baby).
Early Pregnancy Initiates Cancer Prevention
Although the cancer-preventing mechanism involved resided within the breasts, their activation was tied to the time of pregnancy. Early pregnancies (those before age 20 - 30 years) were noted to activate this mechanism. The activation was brought about by the action of several hormones present within the body.
One of the most important hormones tracked during the study is produced soon after conception (the hormone also helps in the diagnosis of pregnancy). The production of this hormone is important for the pregnancy to continue. Several other hormones and proteins are also secreted during this period. Studies have reported that if the levels of the hormone are high during the first trimester of pregnancy, there is a greater reduction in the risk of breast cancer after the age of 50 years.
It has been noted that breast cancer risk is cut in half in women who are pregnant (more specifically full-term pregnancy) for the first time before the age of 20 years, as compared to women who have their first baby after the age of 30 years.
In animal studies it was observed that a combination of early first-time pregnancy and an important hormone work together to initiate a complex mechanism, bringing about certain molecular level changes within the breast tissues. As a result of this, the reparative ability of the breast tissues is increased along with the activation of genes that help in controlling the growth and death of tissues. These changes also help in preventing the incidence of breast cancer.
Role of Other Pregnancy-Related Factors
Along with a woman's age at first full-term pregnancy, many other pregnancy-related factors were also noted to influence on breast cancer risk. These included the number of children born, and the duration of breast feeding.
Breast cancer risk of was also reduced by half in women who gave birth to more than 5 children when compared to those who had not given birth. Breast feeding for a minimum period of 1 year after childbirth was also noted to decrease the risk to a great extent.
Pregnancy can hence be one of the most beneficial stages of life for many women. With the increasing incidence of breast cancer in developing countries like the U.S., having a child early and following healthy practices such as breast feeding, can definitely help in reducing the burden of cancer and its related complications.